Hogarth’s Studio in 1739 by Edward Matthew Ward

Hogarth’s Studio in 1739 by Edward Matthew Ward

One of the unexpected pleasures I get when I visit an art gallery to see a specific exhibition is that having observed the exhibition I always like to walk around and see the paintings in the gallery’s permanent collection and it is then that you unearth some gems.  When I visited the York Art Gallery to take in the William Etty exhibition I gave myself time to have a look at some of the gallery’s other paintings and it also gave me a reason to escape the clutches of the semi-naked live art performer (see My Daily Art Display of December 12th).  It was during this perusal of the works that I came across a painting by Edward Matthew Ward and it is his painting entitled Hogarth’s Studio in 1739 that I am featuring in today’s edition of My Daily Art Display.

Edward Matthew Ward was born in Pimlico, London in 1816 and has been classified as an English narrative painter.  Narrative paintings are an art form that tell a story. This is a long tradition in the world of art and probably dates back to the time of the ancient Egyptians. Popular trends in narrative painting have included history paintings which incorporates the likes of biblical, mythological, and historical themes and which were popular during the period of the Renaissance to the 18th century.  We have already seen in earlier blogs of mine the moralizing story series of William Hogarth’s  Marriage à la Mode ; and then in the 19th-century the narrative art turned more towards anecdotal and sentimental narratives, usually depicting domestic scenes.  In narrative paintings of the 19th century, the title became an important part of the artwork, often explaining the message.

Edward Ward’s parents encouraged his early interest in art and he was sent to a number of art schools, including that of John Cawse, the portraitist and history painter.   Ward was a very talented artist even at an early age and even  won an award from the Society of Arts at the age of 14.  At the age of eighteen he exhibited his first work at the Royal Academy and the following year, 1835, he enrolled as a student at the Royal Academy Schools.  At the age of twenty he set off from England and went to Rome where he remained for three years and it was whilst he was there that he achieved another artistic award.  This time it was a silver medal presented to him by the Rome Academy of St Luke for his work entitled Cimbaue and Giotto, which he sent back to London and which was exhibited in the 1839 R.A. exhibition. 

He returned to England in 1839 but on the way back Ward visited Munich to learn the technique of modern fresco painting.  The reason behind that was that he wanted to take part in the competition to decorate the Palace of Westminster.  In London, the old Houses of Parliament had been destroyed by fire in 1834 and the new Houses of Parliament at Westminster were built. Competitions were held for appropriate designs (‘cartoons’), with a number of leading artists commissioned to take part.   To organise and oversee this project, a Royal Commission had been appointed in 1841, the President of which was Queen Victoria’s new consort Prince Albert.   In all there were three annual competitions.  The competition rules were that each artist would submit a full sized cartoon (preparatory drawing) with specimens of fresco or other techniques suitable for murals.  The design of their submitted work had to be scenes from British History or Literature or personifications of abstract representations of Religion, Justice and the Spirit of Chivalry.  Ward submitted his cartoon entitled Boadicea in the 1843 competition, but it was unsuccessful.  However nine years later, in 1852, mainly because of his much admired historical works, he was commissioned to produce eight pictures for the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, on subjects drawn from the English Civil War.   These were to depict parallel episodes on the two sides in the Civil War.  Ward’s paintings depicted the opposed figures, as if confronting one another, across the corridor.  By now Ward’s work was becoming very popular and he was never short of commissions.

In 1843, the twenty-seven year old Ward met Henrietta Ward the eleven year old daughter of George Raphael Ward, the artist and printmaker and Mary Webb Ward the miniaturist.  Henrietta was besotted with Ward and despite the great age difference they eloped, with the help of Ward’s friend the author Wilkie Collins, and married in 1848 when she was just sixteen years of age.  Henrietta’s parents were devastated and angered by this turn of events and her mother never forgave her and in fact, disinherited her.  The couple went on to have eight children, one of whom, a son, Leslie, was later to become a portraitist and well-known caricaturist and cartoonist, who had many of his works printed in magazines, such as Vanity Fair.  Henrietta although kept busy with her large brood of children was also a noted historical painter and her paintings of children, for which she used her own as models, were also very popular.

Edward Ward was very much influenced by the work of the English narrative artist William Hogarth and during the 1860’s he would mimic Hogarth’s style in his works which depicted incidents from British history.  Ward’s life changed dramatically in the late 1870’s when he started to suffer from a painful and debilitating illness which caused him to have prolonged bouts of depression.  In January 1879, aged 62, Edward Matthew Ward committed suicide.

The featured painting in My Daily Art Display today is entitled Hogarth’s Studio in 1739.  Edward Ward completed this oil on canvas work in 1863.  The setting for this painting, as the title implies, is the studio of the great English painter William Hogarth.   Hogarth’s completed portrait of Captain Thomas Coram is seen on display.  Coram was a philanthropic sea captain who had established the Foundling Hospital in London, in 1741.  It was a children’s home established for the “education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children.”  Although the word “hospital” is in the title of the painting, the establishment itself was not a medical facility.  It simply indicated that it was a place of “hospitality” to those children who had fallen on hard times.  The Foundling’s Hospital had a number of artistic connections.  William Hogarth, who was childless, had a long association with the Hospital and was a founding Governor. It was he who designed the children’s uniforms and the establishment’s coat of arms and Hogarth and his wife Jane fostered foundling children. Hogarth also decided to set up a permanent art exhibition in the new buildings, and encouraged other artists to produce work for the hospital. Many of Hogarth’s contemporaries, such as Gainsborough, Reynolds, Richard Wilson and Francis Hayman gave works to the establishment.

We see numerous children in the painting.   All in their best clothes having come from the Foundling Hospital to Hogarth’s studio, to see the painting.  To the left of the painting we see Hogarth’s wife, Jane standing at the table, slicing up the fruit cake.  The little boy standing by Mrs. Hogarth has no time for the painting which is on display; all he is concerned about are the cakes!  Hiding behind the painting we see the artist Hogarth and the subject of the work, Thomas Coram.   Look at the little girl who stands in front of the portrait peering up hesitantly at it, as if it is the real Captain Coram.  Another girl wearing a red-hooded cloak sits to the right of the painting.  She, we must presume, is crippled and unable to stand for long periods of time as her crutches lie on the floor next to her.  The girl to her right dressed in a sumptuous blue dress animatedly tells her all about the painting.  Take time and look at the wonderful facial expressions of the children.  I love how the artist has incorporated a multi-paneled window in the background and through it we catch a glimpse of a garden.  On the floor we see a globe and a book which Hogarth has used in his painting of the seafarer presumably symbolizing Coram’s travels and knowledge.

It is a beautiful painting and but for my visit to the Etty exhibition in the York Art Gallery, I may never have set eyes on the work.

Marriage à la Mode: The Lady’s Death by William Hogarth

Marriage à la Mode: The Lady's Death by William Hogarth (c.1743)

We have finally arrived at the final chapter of this set of six satirical paintings by the English artist, William Hogarth, entitled Marriage à la Mode.  This final canvas in this moral drama is entitled The Lady’s Death and this of course gives away the final twist in the pictorial story.  When I gave you the first of the six paintings on May 4th I had intended it has a “one-off” in case you got bored if I had gone through all six of the paintings.  However,  I became so fascinated by them I thought that my fascination would be transferred to you and so for the last six days we have followed the life of the Earl and Countess of Squander through the eyes of Hogarth.  Sit back and enjoy the dénouement.  For those of you who have not seen the earlier paintings in my blogs I suggest you head back to My Daily Art Display of May 4th where the story starts.

Yesterday in My Daily Art Display we witnessed the scene at the bagnio, the death of the Earl at the hands of his wife’s lover, Silvertongue, the family lawyer.  Now we are transported to the home of the Countess’ father the rich merchant who had arranged his daughter’s marriage to the Earl, paid a sizeable sum of money to the groom’s father and in return, achieved entry in to the world of nobility.  The decor of the room is not like anything we saw earlier in the house of the young noble couple.  This has a bareness and frugality to it.  There is no sign of aristocratic profligacy we had seen in the earlier paintings.  The floors are bare.  This is not because of the owner’s lack of wealth but more to do with his business-like bourgeois miserliness.  Unlike his daughter and his son-in-law, he was careful with his money.

The Grieving

So let us look carefully at this final scene.  In a chair we see the tragic figure of the dying countess.  She has been informed that her lover, Silvertongue, the family lawyer, has been hanged at Tyburn for killing her husband.  She is wracked with guilt and inconsolable and has taken an overdose of poison.  Hogarth has piled on more tragedy by showing the nursemaid bringing the Countess’ child to the dying woman for one last cuddle.  The nursemaid is wracked with grief, tears streaming down her cheeks.   Sadly, it should be noted that this maid’s expression of grief is the only one we can see on the faces of the people in the room.   The small child puts her lips to her mother’s face to give her one final kiss.  Once again Hogarth has signified, by painting a black spot on the child’s cheek that the child is suffering from syphilis, almost certainly passed on by the father who we knew was suffering from that sexually-transmitted disease. It probably also means that the future health of the child looks extremely bleak.    If that was not bad enough, we can see the poor young thing has legs strapped in callipers, possibly caused by rickets…

The Mercenary Deed

We see the father of the countess standing next to the chair his daughter in which  she is lying slumped.  He has hold of her right hand.  Is this a touch of tenderness from the heart-broken father?   I fancy not as we can see his sole intention seems to be to remove the gold wedding ring from his daughter’s finger before rigor mortis sets in.   He is aware that this sordid episode will prove financially disastrous to him as in cases of suicide the property and possessions of his daughter will revert to the State, which of course means he will lose the considerable dowry he put up as part of the marriage contract.  His best-laid plans have fallen asunder.  Do I hear a cheer of delight from my readers?

The Remonstration

 To the right of the dying woman we see the apothecary reproaching the foolish servant for allowing this all to happen, for it was the servant, who had been persuaded by his mistress to go out and procure some laudanum from the apothecary.  Now the apothecary will be blamed and his rage at the servant is probably to deflect such onus of blame from himself for allowing the poison to enter the household.   The empty bottle lies on the floor by the feet of the countess with the label “Laudanum” still attached.  Next to the empty vial we see a handbill reporting the notice of execution at Tyburn of Silvertongue and recording the dying words of the convicted murderer.  It is probably these tragic last words of her lover that tipped the countess into a suicidal depression.

Let us now look at some of the minor details of the painting that Hogarth has tantalised us with.  Through the open door from which the doctor is leaving we see a row of leathern buckets hanging on the wall.  These were the normal accoutrements of a merchant’s house and were, before a fire engines came into being, in case of fire. Once again we see an overturned chair, this time by the table.  Hogarth used this to symbolise disagreement and conflict.  On the table, we see a pig’s head, which presumably was to be part of a meal, being dragged off by an emaciated-looking dog.  This sort of unappetising meal woulds probably cost little and is a direct reference to the frugality of life in the miserly merchant’s abode.

The paintings on the wall are Dutch genre showing satirically the life of the common people.  In one, we can just make out a woman lighting her pipe using the heat from a drunken man’s nose.  In another, a still-life, we see a pile of dirty dishes lying untouched in a sink and in another we are presented with a drunken man urinating against a wall. 

Old London Bridge

The window to the right of the painting bears the St George’s Cross, the City of London coat of arms. In the upper right quadrant we see an upturned sword which is indicates that this house is situated north of the Thames.  Looking out of the open window we can see the old London Bridge with all its old dilapidated houses built along its entire length.  Art historians tell us that this view was one Hogarth would have witnessed from a window in his uncle’s house. 

So that is finally the end of Hogarth’s satirical story depicted in his six paintings.  I hope you liked them.  When they were first shown to the public around 1743 they received poor reviews, much to the artist’s disappointment considering the amount of time he had put into them.  His peers denigrated his efforts saying that they were merely caricatures.  Hogarth had started preliminary work on what was to be another set of paintings entitled The Happy Marriage but probably, after the poor reception he received for Marriage à la Mode, he decided to shelve the project and now only a few unfinished sketches exist.  In my opinion they were much more than just caricatures.  The paintings give us a very human story and although we may take pleasure in the downfall of the Earl, his wife and the lawyer, I believe Hogarth wanted to draw from us a condemnation of the two fathers who, for financial gain, forced the two young people into an arranged marriage.

Hogarth sold his paintings for a mere twenty guineas and after changing hands a few more times became the property of the British Government and are part of the collection of the National Gallery in London and where they reside today in Room 35.  I will certainly be heading there the next time I visit this great gallery.

Marriage à la Mode: The Bagnio by William Hogarth

Marriage à la Mode The Bagnio by William Hogarth (c.1743)

My Daily Art Display for today will look at the fifth painting in a set of six by William Hogarth, entitled Marriage à la Mode.  Today’s painting is subtitled, The Bagnio.  For anybody who has just come to this page, I suggest you flick to My Daily Art Display of May 4th as that looks at the first painting of the set and as the six paintings are telling a story in chronological order that is where you should start this pictorial soap opera about the Earl of Squander and his young bride.  The title of the Hogarth painting today is The Bagnio.  In England, bagnios were originally used to name coffee houses which offered Turkish baths, but by 1740, which was around the time Hogarth painted these pictures, they signified places where rooms could be hired “with no questions asked”, later they became houses of prostitution.

Yesterday we looked at the fourth painting in the series, subtitled The Toilette and we learnt for the first time that the relationship between the Countess of Squander and her lawyer, Silvertongue was not as pure and business-like as we first believed.  They were arranging to go to a masquerade together and we learnt that the anonymity that these soirées provided guests, allowed them to behave as flirtatiously as they liked without fear of their identity being known. 

The scene of the painting today is set in a dimly lit room in the Turks’ Head Bagnio, which actually existed in London at the time of Hogarth, in Bow Street, Covent Gardens.  Hogarth identifies the establishment by showing a bill on the floor next to the upturned table in the far left foreground of the painting.    Silvertongue and the Countess did go to the masquerade but instead of her returning home she has decided to accompany her lawyer to the bagnio to consummate their sexual desires.  We know they attended the masquerade as their masks lie discarded on the floor.  The floor is also strewn with discarded clothes, the two masques and their bags and it is obvious the two lovers were in great haste to make love.  However for the lovers the night of passion turned out to be an unmitigated disaster as somehow the Earl of Squander, her husband, had found out about their secret assignation and had burst in on them whilst they were carrying out their dastardly deed.   It makes you wonder whether the Earl himself had been using the bagnio for his own forbidden pleasures and the landlord had said something like “I see your wife and her lawyer are here tonight”.  Ok, that is stretching the imagination too far, but somehow he found out about this tryst.

Begging forgiveness

An ensuing sword-fight broke out between Silvertongue and the Earl.  Unfortunately for the Earl, whose life had been spent gambling, drinking and fornicating, fencing had not been his forte and the result of the short-lived duel ended with him receiving a fatal wound to the heart.  Silvertongue now fearing the consequences of his action drops his bloodied sword, which we see on the floor, and decides to vacate the room through the window without stopping to get dressed.  The Countess racked with guilt, falls to her knees at the feet of her dying husband begging forgiveness.  The sound of the commotion has alerted the landlord of the establishment who bursts through the door with the Night Watch to investigate.  This is the scene we now see before us.

As ever, I get great pleasure in looking at the detail in paintings rather than just standing back and having a cursory glance at a work.  I think we owe that to the artist, who has spent so much time on the details and shouldn’t we try and get into the head of the painter and try and rationalise the details he has meticulously added to his masterpiece? 

The lover makes his escape

We are given a rear-view of Silvertongue in the left background, disappearing out of the window in his night shirt.  There is something quite comical and ludicrous about his pose and maybe it was Hogarth’s intention to cast him as a fool.

On the rear wall hangs a tapestry.  It is a woven depiction of the Judgement of Solomon, which if you remember tells the story from the bible which was about his judgement on the parenthood of a baby between two women claiming the infant as theirs.  His judgement was that the baby should be split asunder, giving half to each mother.  Hogarth probably added this as a backdrop to this painting as a reference to the destructive split of the marriage between the Earl and the Countess due to their self-centred life choices they had made which resulted in the ruin of both their lives.

The humour of Hogarth

Hogarth must have had a sense of humour for look on the back wall at the framed three-quarter length picture of a prostitute, which has been placed on the tapestry in such a way that the legs from part of the tapestry scene look to be those of the prostitute!   The bedclothes lie ruffled on the bed which leads us to believe that the Earl had entered the room and caught the lovers in flagrante delicto.

From what Hogarth depicted in this painting, we can have no doubt that the final painting, which we will look at tomorrow, is not going to have a happy ending.

Marriage à la Mode: The Toilette by William Hogarth

Marriage a la Mode The Toilette by William Hogarth (c.1743)

This is the fourth day of My Daily Art Display which looks at the set of six Hogarth paintings entitled collectively as Marriage à la Mode.  To follow the story in chronological order you should start at my blog of May 4th.  Today we are at Episode Four of this pictorial soap opera, a veritable tragic-comedy about a doomed marriage.  Today’s painting is the fourth in William Hogarth’s series and is entitled The Toilette. 

There has been a passage of time between the happenings in the first painting in the series when the two young people became husband and wife and the setting for this fourth painting.   We are in the house of the Viscount and his wife.  We are in the ante-chamber of her boudoir as she prepares herself for the trials and tribulations of the coming day.  What is happening is a morning ritual that the nobility copied from the life of the monarch and which was developed in the French Court.  It was known as the lever du roi.  The royal morning toilette unfolded in two phases. The king was joined for the petit lever by his most senior officials, who gave him the day’s news. While they talked to him, the king was given his dressing gown, was shaved and powdered, and relieved himself on his commode. This was followed by the grand lever, a more public morning reception, during which the king took his chocolate, was given his wig and dressed.

If we look above the pink-curtained alcove we see a coronet which signifies the Viscount has become an Earl and means he has inherited the title from his late father.  The Viscount is now the new Earl of Squander and his wife is now Countess of Squander.   This painting is bursting with all the characters Hogarth has added.  Let me introduce them to you.  The now Countess of Squander is the lady on the right, wearing the yellow and silver morning gown sitting at her dressing table.  On the back of her chair, tied to a red ribbon is a child’s teething coral so we know that she has become a mother.  She has her back to her guests with the exception of Silvertongue, the lawyer, who she is in animated conversation with.    Silvertongue is the lawyer whom we saw in the first painting as he carried out the duties of an adviser to the late Earl and consoled the unhappy viscountess.  Behind her stands her hairdresser who is testing the heat of his curling tongs. 

The invitation

The lawyer seems to have become very “close” to the Countess and seems to have made himself quite at home as he lies full length on a sofa.  In his right hand are some tickets – but for what and why?  If we look at his left hand, it is pointing towards a folding-screen which is illustrating a masked company and we can assume that his conversation with the Countess involves inviting her to come with him to some sort of masquerade. As people wore masks at these events they could not be identified and any dubious behaviour carried out by the revellers was done so without the fear of identification.  Such masquerades in those days often went on right through the night and often the men and their partners would slip away to a bagnio, which was a place where rooms could be hired with no questions asked, and where lovers could “consummate their relationship”.  We now begin to realise that the lawyer, Silvertongue, is not just the Countess’ legal adviser.   Another hint at the sexual nature of their relationship is the book which lies against the back of the sofa on which he lies sprawled.  It is La Sopha a 1742 libertine novel by French author Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon.  It is a story concerning a young courtier, Amanzéï, whose soul in a previous life was condemned by Brahma to inhabit a series of sofas, and not to be reincarnated in a human body until two virgin lovers had consummated their passion on him.  It became the favourite reading of all, male and female alike, who enjoyed indulging in erotic fantasies.

The entourage

To the left, on the sofa we have a singer, probably a castrato, a type of male singer which was very popular at the time.  He is sumptuously dressed with his silken waistcoat which is somewhat spoiled by his corpulence.   He wears rings on his ear and all of his fingers.  His profession has brought him great wealth.  Look at his diamond-encrusted tie pin and the buckles on his shoes and on his knees.  The Countess will have paid dearly for this “morning serenade.  Her female companion is mesmerised by the singing and seems about to fall to her knees in homage to the singer.  At the opposite end of the sofa to the fat singer we see a strange looking man with curl papers in his hair.  We know it is not the husband as we have seen him in the three previous paintings and from what we know of his character we know he was unlikely to give up his time to be with his wife at her petit leve.   Behind the sofa we see a very thin flautist who accompanies the singer.  In the background we see two other gentlemen, part of her ladyship’s entourage.  One holds a cup with what looks like a chocolate biscuit dunked in it.  He has the cursed black patch on his lower lip which could mean he is yet another person carrying a sexually-transmitted disease.  Looking at his facial expression, he too seems much enamoured by the singer’s rendition.  His companion, seated behind him, on the other hand, seems less taken by the music as he is sound asleep albeit still clutching hold of his riding crop.

In the background of this painting we see a black servant handing out a cup of possibly tea or hot chocolate to the Countess’ companion.  On the floor, in front of the countess and Silvertongue we see a small black boy wearing an Indian turban.  It was very fashionable in those days to have at least one coloured servant or pageboy and by the way this small child is allowed to be present at the petit leve  he must have been one of the household. 

The Indian boy and Actaeon

It is interesting to note that he is smiling as he holds a figure of a naked man who is wearing antlers on his head.  This symbolises a cuckold – a deceived husband.  The figure is almost certainly Actaeon, the mythical hunter who surprised the goddess Diana while she was bathing naked and who was turned into a stag in punishment and torn to pieces by his own dogs.   This must have been bought at auction by the countess as it still has the lot number affixed to it.  More erotic items can be seen in the basket the boy is rummaging through – the picture on the tray also recalls forbidden erotic pleasures: the married Zeus, in the shape of a swan, approaches the similarly married Queen Leda. 

Scattered on the floor are various invitations received by the Countess along with a number of ugly ornaments, similar to those we saw on the mantelpiece in the second painting of the series.  On the walls there are a number of paintings which we can recognise. Such as Lot and his Daughters, which was a Biblical reference to incest and Jupiter and Io, a Greek mythological tale of seduction concerning Io who was a river goddess.  Jupiter fell in love with the beautiful maiden, and one day, as she rested on the banks of the River, he changed his shape into that of a cloud, and embraced her. He whispered words of love to her, and then planted an immortal kiss upon her upturned cheek.  However the strangest painting on the wall of the Countess’ room is a portrait of Silvertongue himself!   I wonder how she explained that away to her husband!

There are so many things in this painting which leads us to believe that the Countess has or is about to be unfaithful to her husband.  Prior to this painting, we have just looked at the first three paintings in Hogarth’s six piece cycle and we have surely felt sympathy for the young wife.   Let us examine her lot in life.   Forced into a marriage by her father, who was willing to do anything to join the nobility.  Married to a wastrel who we learn was suffering from a sexually transmitted disease and who spends his evening in the company of whores.  However after examining today’s painting, the fourth episode of the story, maybe we are having doubts about our unconditional love for the young woman.  Can we justify her actions by saying it is purely an act of revenge on her wayward husband?

Marriage à la Mode: The Inspection by William Hogarth

Marriage a la Mode The Inspection by William Hogarth (c.1743)

For anybody who has just clicked on to this page, be warned, we are now almost half way through William Hogarth’s pictorial saga entitled Marriage à la Mode and I suggest you click on to the May 4th blog which is the starting point to this cycle of paintings.  This is painting number three in the cycle and is entitled The Inspection.  In My Daily Art Display on the two previous days we looked at the coming together of the young couple and then the onset of the deterioration of the relationship.  Today things take a turn for the worse in the marriage saga.

Today, the setting for the painting is not the Viscount and Viscountess’s house but the consulting rooms of the French doctor, M. De LaPillule.  In the surgery we see the doctor to the left, the Viscount, with his young mistress, who stands on his left hand side and in the centre a rather large woman in a voluminous maroon hooped dress.  There is no sign of the Viscountess and as the story unfolds you will know the reason for her absence.

In the two previous paintings in the cycle we have noted that the Viscount has a black patch on his neck, a way Hogarth signified that the Viscount has contracted the sexually transmitted disease, syphilis.  It is for that very reason that he now appears at the doctor’s surgery.  The Viscounts voracious sexual appetite has been the undoing of him and now he is paying the penalty for his many indiscretions and sexual liaisons.  He, however, seems unabashed by his predicament.  In fact he seems quite good humoured, which is in stark contrast to the worried look on the face of his very young mistress.  She is but a mere child.  They have come to the doctor for a cure for his ailment.  He had originally been prescribed mercury tablets, which at the time were the only known cure for the disease, but they have had not achieved the desired effect so we can see the Viscount handing back the pill to the doctor and asking for an alternative medication.  I say “asking” but we see that in his left hand he is brandishing a cane.  Is this a threatening move on his part towards the doctor?  Is it his belief that his confrontational action will get him a more potent and successful remedy?

I am not sure how much faith I would have in a doctor who looks like the one in the painting.  He looks unclean and unshaven and is dressed in shabby brown clothes.  Maybe he is what was termed a “back-street” doctor.  Maybe the Viscount dare not go to his regular physician in case his plight became known to his social circle.  The surgery, like the doctor, is dirty and full of masks and bones and on the table next to Doctor La Pillule is a skull.  In the cupboard at the rear of the painting we see a skeleton which almost appears to be groping the genitals of a musculature model or is it an embalmed body !!!!   If we look to the side of the cabinet we can see a narwal tusk which is a classic phallic symbol.  On the cabinet we observe a plethora of pill boxes, a scalloped-sided bleeding basin, a glass urinal, a giant plaster head with a huge femur behind, an alchemist’s tripod for holding flasks over burners, a broken mediaeval comb, a tall red Jacobean hat, two mismatched mediaeval shoes, a spur buckler and a sword and shield, all of which are covered in dust.  So what does this tell us about the doctor and his practice?   Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, the German scientist and artist wrote in his book entitled Hogarth on High Life. The Marriage à la Mode Series,

“…The Doctor’s collection, commenting as it does both historically and prophetically on his career, might be interpreted as follows: he began as a beard trimmer; graduated to piss-analyst; barely skirting the gallows (by virtue of his curative powers) he grabbed for himself a doctor’s hat; and is now counting on a knighthood, if he has not one already…” 

Hardly a resounding recommendation on the good doctor’s ability to cure the Viscount and his mistresses.

The large irate lady at the centre of the painting, which we are presuming is the young mistress’s mother, has similar black patches on her face and we can only surmise that she too is suffering from syphilis.  It is thus a matter of conjecture as to whether the lady is purely the mother of the Viscount’s young mistress or is she the mistress as well, as the Viscount seems to be very relaxed in her company and not fearful of the consequences of having given her young daughter a sexually transmitted disease.  Also, if she was the child’s mother would she and the child be standing together?   Maybe they are not related and they are just two females of vastly different ages plying the same trade.  I am not sure whether, if I was the Earl, I would be feeling relaxed as him,  especially as in her hand we see her opening up a clasp knife as she stares down malevolently at him. 

We look at the young girl.  She is but a child.  She looks worried and sad knowing what has befallen her.  It is a pathetic sight.  For a supposed mistress she seems so young, too demure, too prim and proper but we see her dabbing a sore on her mouth with a handkerchief and this is probably the early signs of the onset of syphilis.  In her other hand is a pill box.  Maybe she too is seeking an alternative remedy to her illness.

That’s the end of Episode Three of Marriage à la Mode.  Tomorrow we will take a look at the next part of the Hogarth’s saga, entitled The Toilette.

Marriage à la Mode: The Tête à Tête by William Hogarth

Marriage à la Mode: The Tête à Tête by William Hogarth

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 - Lost in thought

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.

The Viscountess - Contented look of pleasure

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? 

The frustrated steward and the unpaid bills

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.

Mishmash of ornaments

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.

That painting !!!!

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!

Marriage à la Mode: The Marriage Settlement by William Hogarth

Marriage à la mode: The Marriage Settlement by William Hogarth (c.1743)

A couple of days ago I featured a portrait of a couple by Thomas Gainsborough.  The type of portrait was known as an “outdoor conversation piece” with it being a group portrait of real people in a landscape setting.  Today I am going to introduce you to another form of art known as “the modern moral subject”.  This form of art was developed by the English artist William Hogarth.  Hogarth had a great desire to be an English painter of grand manner history subjects.  He wanted to break the foreigner’s monopoly in high art. However, unlike the up and coming portrait painter, Joshua Reynolds, he rejected the idea of travelling to Rome where that manner was to be acquired.

Hogarth believed there was enough evidence of the “foreigners’ work” in England without him having to make them pilgrimage to Italy.  The Raphael cartoons, which were considered to be among the greatest treasures of the High Renaissance, were in England.  They had been painted by Raphael as designs for the tapestries that were made to cover the lower walls of the Vatican Sistine Chapel had been brought to England in 1623.  There were also many engravings of great art at hand in England and Hogarth considered travelling through Europe to study High Renaissance art was unnecessary.  Hogarth had created a different role for himself, painting narrative series of “modern moral subjects”.  The novelist and dramatist Henry Fielding called them “comic history paintings”.

My Daily Art Display for today is The Marriage Settlement, the first painting of a set of six entitled Marriage à-la-mode which Hogarth painted between 1743 and 1745.  It is a moralistic warning, which gives us a clear vision of what happens as a result of an ill-conceived marriage, which only took place for financial reasons and not for love.  Art historians believe that this project of Hogarth was his finest.   It is a finely crafted story divided into six parts and I like to consider it as a six-episode pictorial soap opera.

The main protaganists

So now let me introduce you to the characters that are all assembled in this, the first painting of the series.  Seated at the far right of the foreground we have the Earl of Squander.  The index finger of his left hand points to an unfurled parchment depicting his family tree, which shows his family being direct descendents of William, Duke of Normandy (William the Conqueror).    Hogarth has cynically incorporated a broken branch in to the family tree, which was indicative of  a prior marriage, but one outside the nobility and was thus disowned, hence the break from the main tree.  Obviously one would not have shown such a thing on a real family tree but it is reminding the viewers that this great noble’s set of descendents were not quite as noble as the earl would have us believe!   Although titled, the man is almost penniless and heavily in debt due to his foolish ways and needs urgently to replenish his wealth.  Despite his poverty look at the luxurious and costly clothes he is wearing.  There is an arrogance about the man.  He has surrounded himself with symbols of his nobility.  There are coronets everywhere.  If you look carefully you can see how Hogarth has painted them on his foot stool, on the canopy above his head, and even on the head of his crutches.     Observe how Hogarth has painted him with his right foot resting on a stool which is a tell-tale symptom of gout, and which is often associated with overindulgence in alcohol and rich foods.

Sitting across from the Earl, in his red frock coat is The Alderman.  He, unlike the Earl, is extremely rich.  He is what we would now term, the nouveau riche.  However, he is not of the “noble class” and all he wants is to become the grandfather to a noble son.  He has what the Earl needs – money.  The Alderman has what the Alderman needs – nobility and so they have hatched up the plan of a marriage between the Alderman’s daughter and the Earl’s son.

Bride and groom with Silvertongue the lawyer

We can see the bride and groom sitting in the background.  Note how they are not looking at each other, which is Hogarth’s way of illustrating that there is no “love” in this union.  The young girl looks despondent but resigned.  Her clothes are quite plain in comparison to those of her new husband.  She is fiddling nervously with her handkerchief through which she has threaded her wedding ring.  We feel a little sorry for her.  Next to her stands Silveretongue, the lawyer.  He has a somewhat fawning appearance as he is outlines the terms of the marriage to her.

On the other hand, there is nothing about the groom’s appearance and demeanour that we can possibly like.  The young man, the Viscount, has a foppish air about him.  He sits with his back to his new wife.  He is dressed expensively in a French-style wearing a powdered wig with a black bow in the back of it.  His high heeled shoes and open spindly-legged posture give him a distinctly effeminate look.  There is a black spot on his neck which some believe indicates that he may have syphilis or scrofula.  He vainly stares at his reflection in the mirror in a narcissistic manner.

The tethered couple

On the floor at the feet of the Viscount we can see two unhappily-looking animals tethered together, a bitch and a dog.  Despite being tied together, they seem to be ignoring each other.   This is how Hogarth cleverly insinuates and compares pictorially the entrapment that the marriage has brought to the newly-married couple.  It is a tethering together of the man and the woman in a loveless arrangement.  The arrangement is purely something the Earl and the Alderman wanted. For the Earl it would be a future heir and for the Alderman it would mean and entry to the noble class.

The sixth character in this composition is the man standing looking out of the window, between the Earl and the Alderman.  He is the architect.  He holds in his hands a set of architectural plans and as we look through the window we can make out an un-finished building the cost of which has probably bled the Earl dry of his money.  The architect in a way is part of this ill thought out marriage as he needs the Earl to have his coffers refilled so that he can get back to work on this grand building project.

The final player in this scene is the man leaning over the table handing back to the Earl his mortgage papers which have been signed in return for the bill of exchange provided by the Alderman, which was his daughter’s dowry.  On the table we see a pile of gold coins which the Earl has just received from the Alderman.

Hogarth has amusingly given us one more clue that this marriage is doomed to failure.   Around the room he has added a number of paintings all of which depict scenes of devastation, tragedy or martyrdom.  We see David killing Goliath, St Lawrence being burnt at the stake, The Massacre of the Innocent, Cain slaying Abel and Judith decapitating Holofernes.

Obviously the artist has no doubt as to how this story will unfold!

Tomorrow we will look at the second painting in the series and see how the tale unfolds