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  • image P44

William Hogarth (1697 - 1764)

A Rake's Progress V: The Marriage

1734

Oil on canvas

Height: 62.2cm
Width: 75.2cm

Museum number: P44

Curatorial note


An introduction to A Rake’s Progress
A Rake’s Progress comprises eight paintings and is the second of Hogarth’s painted series, the sequel to A Harlot’s Progress. It is possible, according to David Bindman, that the two were conceived in parallel. In his Autobiographical Notes, Hogarth claimed credit for inventing the genre of pictorial sequences that told a story: ‘[I] turn[ed] my thoughts to still a more new way of proceeding, viz painting and Engraving moder[n] moral Subject[s] a Field unbroke up in any Country or any age.’ They were innovative because the pictorial narratives showed aspects of contemporary eighteenth-century life in series. The locations and characters depicted, often taken from real life, would have been instantly recognisable to Hogarth’s contemporaries.

The paintings were originally produced by Hogarth in 1734 as preparatory works for engravings published in 1735. Prospective purchasers visited Hogarth’s home and studio in Leicester Fields (now Leicester Square) to view the paintings before electing to subscribe to a set of engravings. The antiquary and engraver George Vertue (1684–1756) noted that ‘daily Subscriptions came in, in fifty or a hundred pounds in a Week – there being no day but persons of fashion and Artists came to see these pictures.’ A set of the eight prints cost one-and-a-half guineas to subscribers or two guineas after publication. A Harlot’s Progress was subject to a high degree of piracy by copyists. In an attempt to negate this Hogarth instigated the Copyright Act, also known as ‘Hogarth’s Act’ and delayed publication of the engravings of A Rake’s Progress until after the act was passed on 25 June 1735.

Sir John Soane purchased the Rake’s Progress paintings in 1802 from William Thomas Beckford (1759-1844) of Fonthill Splendens, the only legitimate son of William Beckford (1709-70), a politician and landowner who was born in Jamaica where he owned extensive plantations. The elder Beckford relocated to London and purchased the estate at Fonthill in 1744. He later variously served as an MP, Alderman, Sherriff of London, and from 1762 to 1763 and 1769 to 1770 as Lord Mayor of London. Despite his many successes Beckford was criticised as nouveau riche and a vulgar colonial. His rivals enjoyed highlighting the contradiction between his fight for liberty in Parliament, and his great wealth founded on the backs of enslaved people working in Caribbean sugar plantations. In 1786 his son William Thomas Beckford commissioned Soane to convert a corridor on the second floor of Fonthill Splendens into a picture gallery. Although Soane’s design was not executed1 it is likely that Soane saw A Rake’s Progress for the first time at Fonthill during his visits in 1786-87.

After purchasing the paintings Soane hung them in pride of place in the small drawing room, or ‘retiring parlour’, the first room a visitor would enter, at his country house Pitzhanger Manor in Ealing. After Soane’s sale of Pitzhanger in 1810 the pictures presumably moved to Lincoln’s Inn Fields where they were certainly on display in Soane’s first Picture Room behind No. 12 by 1819. In 1824 Soane constructed a new Picture Room at the back of No. 14 Lincoln’s Inn Fields and hung the series behind the wooden planes on the north wall, where they remain today.2

A Rake’s Progress describes the moral and physical journey of its protagonist, Tom Rakewell, the son of a miserly City merchant. Hogarth presents the consequences of Tom’s moral choices; desertion, social climbing, extravagance and the sins of the flesh, as being shame, debt, degradation and ultimately madness followed by death. Rakewell is beloved by his long-suffering lover Sarah Young, who was seduced by his promises of marriage, but he foolishly ignores the redemptive potential offered by a genuine commitment to her and their bastard child.

The Marriage
‘The Marriage’, the fifth painting in A Rake’s Progress, depicts the first of Tom Rakewell’s foolish and increasingly desperate attempts to retrieve his squandered fortune and represents the beginning of his descent into poverty and insanity. Lacking the strength of character to repay his debts by hard work or personal initiative Tom has instead proposed marriage, not to Sarah Young, his still-faithful lover, but to an elderly, lame, one-eyed woman, whose right hand appears to be deformed. The elderly bride’s elaborate bejewelled dress, in a rich, glowing fabric indicates that she is wealthy. In Hogarth’s time, by law, a woman’s possessions generally became her husband’s absolutely upon marriage.3 The clear inference is that Tom is marrying his bride exclusively for her money and the marriage will be a sham. The tablet of the Ten Commandments on the altar wall is cracked through ‘IX’: ‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour’ but the vows Tom is about to make to his bride are clearly false; he is already glancing appraisingly at his bride’s young and pretty maid. The two pugs in the right foreground of the painting further parody the liaison. A male, apparently panting, mounts the stool upon which sits a small, puny docile one-eyed bitch with a ribbon around her neck and white markings on her front which mimic the lace framing the bride’s décolletage.

The marriage takes place in the church of St Mary-le-Bone which existed in Hogarth’s lifetime.4 Located in the environs of what is now Regent’s Park, then outside London, it was known as an out-of-the-way place whose vicar, depicted here reading the service of matrimony, with his curate at his side, was prepared to officiate at hasty or secret weddings. There is a solitary observer up in the balcony upon which is the inscription ‘This Church of / St. Mary le Bone / was Beautifyed / in the Year 1725 / Thos. Horn and Thos. Sice / Church Wardens’.5 However the church is already dilapidated: on the far wall plaster is peeling to reveal the lathes beneath and the pulpit is stained, suggesting not only that the dishonest vicar may have embezzled the funds but also the moral decay of the church more generally.

Sarah Young, Tom’s loyal lover who rescued him from being arrested for debt in the previous painting can be seen in the background, carrying their child and accompanied by her overbearing mother who is haranguing the pew-keeper in an attempt to win entry to the church and put a halt to the marriage. This is the decisive moment in Tom’s moral journey, the last point at which his redemption, made possible by Sarah’s offer of her purse in the previous painting is feasible. Tom ignores the commotion just as he ignored Sarah’s mother’s pleas to marry her daughter in scene one, ‘The Heir’, and his chance of salvation through her intervention is lost.

Joanna Tinworth, April 2021

Footnotes
1 Christopher Woodward, 'William Beckford and Fonthill Splendens: early works by Soane and Goodridge', Apollo, 432, 1998, p.31.
2 Soane writes that ‘It is well in a twofold sense that, from the application of folding shutters, after having duly considered [the paintings of A Rake’s Progress] some of the subjects may be removed from view’ because ‘the horrible display of [the Rake’s] miseries … would render the spectators utterly incapable of relishing the beauties around him.’ John Soane, Description of the house and museum on the north side of Lincoln's Inn Fields, the residence of Sir John Soane, 1835, p.23.
3 This circumstance did not materially change until the introduction of the Married Women’s Property Act in 1870 which gave women married after 1870 the right to own and control personal property.
4 The dilapidated church depicted by Hogarth was rebuilt in 1740 and again in 1949. https://www.stmarylebone.org/images/stories/History/A_Full_History_of_St_Marylebone_Parish_Church.pdf
5
These were actual churchwardens of the parish. Elizabeth Einberg, William Hogarth, A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, 2016, p. 138 quotes John B. Nichols Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth, 1785, p.217; John Ireland, Hogarth Illustrated, vol. 1, 1791, p.48.

Provenance help-art-provenance

A Rake's Progress was exhibited in Hogarth’s studio from December 1733 and remained in his possession until the paintings' sale by private auction on 17 February 1745 to Alderman William Beckford (d. 1770) of Fonthill, who paid £184.16s for them. For more biographical information on Beckford see the introduction to the series.

His son, William Thomas Beckford sold the contents of Fonthill Splendens at Christie's on 27 February 1802 where A Rake’s Progress was lot 86. The series was bought by John Soane for 570 guineas. According to the diarist Joseph Farington ‘Mrs Soane was the bidder and was authorised by Him to go to £1,000.’1 Although Soane had been unwell with gout during the month of February ‘by the end of the month he was better’ 2 and he called upon Farington on 28 February. This suggests that he was content to entrust bidding on A Rake’s Progress to his wife Eliza.

1 Garlick, Kenneth and MacIntyre, Angus (eds), The Diary of Joseph Farington, vol v August 1801-March 1803, 1979, p. 1752.
2 Darley, Gillian, John Soane, An Accidental Romantic, 1999, p. 148.

Literature

John B. Nichols, Biographical Anecdotes of William Hogarth, 1781, revised eds. 1782, 1785
John Ireland, Hogarth Illustrated, 3 vols.: 1 and 2, 1791 and 1793 (2nd ed.); 3 (supplement), 1798
John Nichols and George Steevens, The Genuine Works of William Hogarth, 3 vols: 1, 1808; 2, 1810; 3, 1817
John Britton, Union, 1827, pp.40, 53-54
John Soane, Description, 1830, pp.15 and 41
John Soane, Description, 1835, pp.16 and 23
William Hazlitt, Lectures on the English Comic Writers (3rd edition), 1841, p.274
David Kunzle, 'Plagiaries by Memory of A Rake's Progress', Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. XXIX, 1966
Ronald Paulson, Hogarth: His Life, Art and Times, 1971, vol. I, pp.322-333 and passim
Kenneth Garlick and Angus MacIntyre (eds), The Diary of Joseph Farington, vol V August 1801-March 1803, 1979, pp.1752 and 1754
David Bindman, Hogarth, 1981, pp.62-71 and passim
Elizabeth Einberg, Manners and Morals: Hogarth and British Painting 1700-1760, Exhibition Catalogue, Tate, 1987, cat. 74-81, pp.96-97
S. Feinberg Millenson, Sir John Soane's Museum, 1987, p.78
Ronald Paulson, Hogarth’s Graphic Works, 1989, pp.89-98
Christina Scull, The Soane Hogarths, 1991
Ronald Paulson, Hogarth, 3 volumes, 1991-93, pp.20-35 and passim
Peter Thornton and Helen Dorey, Miscellany, 1992, pp.vii, 122 and 126
Lars Tharp, Hogarth's China: Hogarth's paintings and 18th-century ceramics, 1997, pp.58-63
Jenny Uglow, Hogarth: A Life and a World, 1997, pp.239-40 and passim
Robin Simon and Christopher Woodward (eds), A Rake's Progress: From Hogarth to Hockney, Exhibition Catalogue, published by Apollo for Sir John Soane's Museum, 1997
republished as Apollo, vol. CXLVIII, no. 437, August 1998 (special issue on A Rake's Progress)
Christopher Woodward, 'William Beckford and Fonthill Splendens: early works by Soane and Goodridge', Apollo, 432, 1998, pp.31-40
Gillian Darley, John Soane: An Accidental Romantic, 1999
Matthew Craske, William Hogarth, 2000, passim
Helen Dorey, 'Sir John Soane's Pitzhanger', in Trackers, Exhibition Catalogue, Pitzhanger Manor, 2004
Mark Hallett and Christine Riding, Hogarth, Exhibition Catalogue, Tate, 2006, cat. 44 (the series), pp.86-93
Christina Scull, The Soane Hogarths, second revised edition, 2007, pp.31-49 and passim
New Description, 2007, pp.20, 22-26 and 97
Elizabeth Einberg, William Hogarth, A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, 2016, pp.133-141
David Bindman (ed.), Hogarth: Place and Progress, Exhibition Catalogue, Sir John Soane's Museum, 2019, cats. 7-14
Bruce Boucher, 'Soane and Hogarth' in David Bindman (ed.), Hogarth: Place and Progress, Exhibition Catalogue, Sir John Soane's Musuem, pp.17-23
Joanna Tinworth, 'Life in Hogarth's London', Minerva, September/October 2019, pp.40-45

Exhibition history

A Rake's Progress: Life in the City, Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery, London, 18 March 2020 - 31 December 2020
Hogarth: Place and Progress, Sir John Soane's Museum, London, 9 October 2019 - 5 January 2020
Hogarth, Tate Britain, London, 2 December 1971 - 6 February 1972
Hogarth, Tate Britain, London, 5 February - 29 April 2007
Manners & Morals - Hogarth and British Painting 1700-1760, Tate Britain, London, 15 October 1987 - 3 January 1988
The Rake's Progress: From Hogarth to Hockney, Sir John Soane's Museum, London, 26 March - 31 August 1997
The Soane Hogarths, Sir John Soane's Museum, London, 30 March - 19 June 2004; 26 August 2005 - 25 February 2006

Associated objects

P40, series
P41, series
P42, series
P43, series
P45, series
P46, series
P47, series


If you have any further information about this object, please contact us: worksofart@soane.org.uk