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Marriage A-la-Mode: 4, The Toilette
William Hogarth
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The fourth scene of Hogarth’s Marriage A-la-Mode takes place in the wife’s bedroom. Now a Countess, she is following the aristocratic French fashion of receiving visitors as she finishes getting dressed. A coral baby’s teether hanging from the back of her chair indicates that she has become a mother. The Countess does not look at herself in the mirror – she only has eyes for her lover Silvertongue, who offers her a ticket to a masquerade.

An opera singer and his flautist entertain the Countess’s guests while a manservant offers them cups of chocolate. A little page boy holds a statue of Actaeon, whom the chaste goddess Diana transformed into a stag and then caused to be killed by his own hounds. The boy laughs as he points at Actaeon’s antlers, which represent the horns of a cuckold (the husband of a woman who commits adultery) as the Countess has proved her husband to be.

Key facts
Artist William Hogarth
Artist dates 1697 - 1764
Full title Marriage A-la-Mode: 4, The Toilette
Series Marriage A-la-Mode
Date made about 1743
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 70.5 x 90.8 cm
Inscription summary Inscribed
Acquisition credit Bought, 1824
Inventory number NG116
Location in Gallery Not on display
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Marriage A-la-Mode

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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.

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