For those of you who have just alighted on this page, I would suggest you start by looking at yesterday’s offering, which is the first in a series of six paintings by William Hogarth, which together were entitled Marriage à-la-mode. My Daily Art Display today is the second painting in the series entitled The Tête à Tête. The six paintings tell a story, in chronological order, (hence my suggestion to start at yesterday’s blog) of the consequences of an ill-conceived marriage.
In the painting we see four characters. The newly married Viscount and his bride, the Viscountess, and two servants, one who is just taking his leave of the couple and the other we can spot in the ante-room. The setting is the drawing room of their palatial home. If we look above the Viscount’s head we can see a clock showing a time of 1:20 and this has generated two lines of thought as to whether we are viewing this scene in the early afternoon or in the early hours of the morning. I will leave you to decide.
The Viscount sits slumped in his chair with his hands stuffed in his pocket. He is disheveled and completely lost in thought. It is as if he has just returned from a night out with the lads and is now feeling ill from the onset of a hangover and a night of debauchery. He looks exhausted and maybe his night out was not just a tour of the inns with his male friends but maybe his fatigue has been brought on by their visiting a brothel. So maybe 1:20 in the morning is a better bet!
He pays no attention to his wife who sits across from him in a separate chair. A dog can be seen at his side. It is quite animated as it sniffs at something sticking out of his pocket, possibly a woman’s lace cap which he obtained as a “trophy” during his sojourn in the brothel. Once again, we see in this picture a large black patch on the Viscount’s neck, which Hogarth used to signify that the Viscount has contracted syphilis. It should be remembered that this patch was there in the first picture and therefore he had this affliction prior to his marriage. However Hogarth has cast doubt on the Viscount’s sexual prowess as lying by his feet is his sword still in its scabbard but the tip has broken off which alludes to the fact that he may be impotent.
So let us take a look at the Viscountess. To her right we see some playing cards scattered on the floor. In front of her, on the ground, is the book entitled Hoyle on Whist suggesting that her evening entertainment has been simply playing cards, but maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is, with whom? Am I adding intrigue when there is none to be savoured? Observe the young woman more closely. Her pose lacks dignity. She sits with her legs apart, a not very lady-like pose. Her arms are outstretched and she is lost in thought. In contrast to her husband’s thoughts, her thoughts seem to be very pleasurable. Look at her dress. Look at the stain or damp patch on it. Why has Hogarth painted it like this? What is the artist trying to convey to the viewer? Her facial expression is one of contentment and joy and we know that this is not the result of a happy marriage or the fact of being left at home alone, whilst her husband is off gadding about. She is probably aware of his womanizing, so what has brought about this expression of happiness? There is something sly and devious about her expression as she furtively peeks under eyelashes at her husband. Take a look at what she is holding above her head in her right hand. It is a mirror. Maybe she is using it just before she stretched out her hands or maybe she is signaling to somebody just out of picture – maybe her lover with whom she has spent an evening of pleasure? Maybe that is what has put the contented expression on her face. Hogarth has given us one other clue to a possible meeting of lovers. Look on the floor in the foreground. We see an upturned chair and an abandoned musical instrument and sheets of music. Was the lover of the Viscountess seranading her and on hearing the arrival home of her husband, dashed out of the room, knocking over the chair in his haste?
We see the steward just about to take his leave of the couple. He does not seem best pleased. He is portrayed by Hogarth as a pious Methodist and in the pocket of his coat we can just see a book sticking out with the title “Regeneration” a book on Christian theology. A quill pen is behind his ear. In his left hand he is grasping a stack of unpaid bills and a ledger is tucked under his arm. Hanging from the little finger of his left hand is a spike upon which are the paid bills. Alas, there would appear to be only one, which fades into insignificance if we contrast that to the sheaf of unpaid bills. It is quite obvious that the young Viscount likes to spend and is treading the same perilous path his father took – the road to financial ruin. The steward is leaving them with his right hand thrown upwards in a sign of despair that neither of the couple will take their financial situation seriously.
Over the fireplace we see a painting of Cupid amongst ruins playing what looks like a set of bagpipes. This symbolizes the inharmonious and flawed state of the young couple’s marriage. Below the painting of cupid we see a bust which has, at one time, had its nose broken off and this once again this symbolizes impotence – maybe alluding once again to the impotency of the Viscount. On the mantlepiece there is a terrible mishmash of ornaments, jars, statuettes and figurines. This probably alludes to the chaotic existence of the couple’s lifestyle.
Do you know what amuses me the most? It is is in the other room. Look at the paintings on the wall. We can see three paintings, portraits of the apostles, but look at the fourth painting, the one to the right. A green cover almost hides the subject from view but we can see a naked foot. I will leave you to decide what the rest of the painting was about. It had to be something too risqué for us to see!
We are left in no doubt by this second painting that the marriage of the Viscount and the Viscountess is heading for the rocks and you will have to wait until tomorrow to see the third “episode” of this pictorial soap opera to find out what happens next!
One thought on “Marriage à la Mode: The Tête à Tête by William Hogarth”
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