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Marriage A-la-Mode: 3, The Inspection

The third scene in the series of six paintings by Hogarth titled Marriage A-la Mode is set in the consulting room of the French doctor M. de la Pillule. Viscount Squanderfield is accompanied by a sickly looking little girl and a woman who is probably the girl's mother and madam.

The child stands between the Viscount's open legs, while he sits with a pill box beside his groin, suggesting that she is 'his' girl and that they are both there to be treated for a sexually transmitted disease. Brandishing his cane, the Viscount seems to be protesting that the doctor's pills don't work. The pills are of black mercury, matching the black mark on the Viscount's neck that Hogarth uses to denote syphilis. The doctor himself is riddled with the disease. His consulting room is full of extraordinary objects including machines for setting shoulders and drawing corks.

For centuries, the English have been fascinated by the sexual exploits and squalid greed of the aristocracy, and these are the subjects of the six-part series Marriage A-la-Mode, which illustrates the disastrous consequences of marrying for money rather than love. The basic story is of a marriage arranged by two self-seeking fathers - a spendthrift nobleman who needs cash and a wealthy City of London merchant who wants to buy into the aristocracy. It was Hogarth's first moralising series satirising the upper classes.

The six pictures were painted in about 1743 to be engraved and then offered for sale after the engravings were finished. The engravings are uncoloured, reversed versions of the paintings. Published in 1745, the engravings were offered to subscribers at a guinea a set. They proved instantly popular and gave Hogarth's work a wide audience. The paintings were offered for sale by twelve noon on 6 June 1751, but only attracted two bidders, one of whom bought them all for £126.

Credit: Bought, 1824

c. 1743
Oil on canvas
69.9 x 90.8cm
NG115
Image and text © The National Gallery, London, 2024

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