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  • image P41
SM P41. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photo: Art UK

William Hogarth (1697 - 1764)

A Rake’s Progress II: The Levee


Oil on canvas

Height: 63cm
Width: 75.5cm

Museum number: P41

On display: Picture Room - inside planes (by arrangement or on some pre-booked tours)
All spaces are in No. 13 Lincoln's Inn Fields unless identified as in No. 12, Soane's first house. For tours https://www.soane.org/your-visit - not all tours show the inside of all planes.

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 painted pictorial narratives showed aspects of contemporary eighteenth-century life in series, though there were Italian engraved precedents. 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 Levée
The Levée’, the second canvas in the series, is set seven years after the first according to the date ‘1727’ inscribed on the silver punch bowl in the foreground, and portrays Tom Rakewell’s new incarnation as a fashionable man-about-town. He is holding a levée, a far cry from his origins as the inconsequential son of a City moneylender.

Derived from the French verb lever, to rise (or colloquially ‘to get up’), the levée originated in late seventeenth-century France and described the Monarch’s ritual of dressing and breakfasting in public. At a levée ordinary citizens outside the inner circle of government might speak to him and seek his patronage; an opportunity for the King to hear petitions and transact business. The habit was taken up by the aristocratic classes who, alongside their men of business, would receive purveyors of all kinds promoting their services.3 In 1738 Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote an essay in the journal Nonsense and Common-Sense ridiculing the fashion for every ‘upstart nonentity’4 to have a levée populated by such a ‘Crowd of attending Slaves’ that they ‘really are become such a Farce’.5

Dressed in domestic rather than formal clothes, yet as a man of fashion, Tom is shown wearing a pink silk morning coat, lined with blue, and red slippers. His white house cap covers his shaven head as he has not yet put on his wig. His ambition to rise in society is reflected in his patronage of the genteel, but generally frivolous and unproductive, arts enjoyed by aristocrats and the size of the rapacious entourage upon whose services he is spending money liberally, the attendant characters revealing how Tom has passed the seven years since he inherited his miserly father’s fortune.

In the foreground is a diminutive, poised, dancing master holding a kit violin6 with which he will accompany Tom’s dancing lesson. The fencing master in a black tricorne hat takes up a fencing stance akin to the fifth position, displaying his expertise as a teacher. It is possibly a portrait of ‘Dubois’ a well-known contemporary French fencing master who was killed in a duel in 1733, the year before Hogarth painted the series.7 To Dubois’ left is James Figg (d.1734) a prize-fighter, as indicated by the quarter-staff he holds, clearly expressing disdain for the more refined art of fencing. At Figg’s academy in Oxford Street fashionable young men could learn the art of self-defence. The landscape gardener to the rear of this group may be a portrait of Charles Bridgeman (d.1738), credited with popularising the fashion for picturesque rather than formal gardens, though the plan he holds is a rather formal one.

The musician sitting at the harpsichord may or may not be the composer George Frederick Handel as his face is not visible but the music book is inscribed ‘The / Rape / of the / Sabines / an OPERA / by F.H.’ clearly referring to Handel and the prevailing fashion for Italian opera and castrato singers. One performer is noted, ‘Senesino’ a celebrated Italian castrato and a frequent collaborator of Handel’s.8 Known for his advocacy of British arts, Hogarth is satirising Tom’s taste for foreign music, as well as his extravagance: the harpsichord is inscribed ‘I Mahoan Fecit.’, Joseph Mahoon being the King’s harpsichord-maker. To the rear of this group more people await an audience, including a milliner, a tailor with a coat over his arm and an old poet.9

On the right is a group of less salubrious hangers-on. Kneeling before Tom is his jockey, presenting a silver trophy awarded to ‘Silly Tom’. The Rake’s eponymous horse has won at Newmarket inferring associated high-class betting, whilst the hornsman in the corner indicates Tom’s participation in hunting and ownership of the expensive stable of thoroughbred horses that pastime requires. At Tom’s elbow is a ruffian-like fellow named ‘Captain Hackum’ whose letter of recommendation Tom holds in his hand. ‘Sr. Capt. Hackum is / a man of Honour his / sword may serve you / I am Sr. / your most obed… / Hum[bl]e Ser[van]t / W Stab’. Hackum’s right hand ready on his sword hilt and his left hand on his heart appears to indicate his loyalty and readiness to deploy his sword on Tom’s behalf. The presence of Hackum implies Tom’s familiarity with the unsavoury side of London life and his need of a bodyguard.

The setting couldn’t be in greater contrast to the humble room in which Tom appears in the first painting. This large, high-ceilinged interior in the modern classical style has sizeable windows overlooking one of the new, spacious and fashionable garden squares such as Grosvenor or Berkeley Squares which were being developed on the western fringes of London. Tom’s want of genuine taste and gentility is displayed not only in the indiscriminate nature of his patronage but also in the way his pictures are displayed, as he haphazardly flanks a large mythological subject with two prosaic gamecocks. The central painting, positioned just behind Tom, shows the Judgement of Paris at the moment when, forced by Jupiter to choose the most beautiful of three goddesses, Paris selects one, Venus, in return for Venus’ promise that Paris should have Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world. Paris’s subsequent abduction of Helen caused the Trojan War during which he died. The painting not only mocks Tom’s pretensions to being a man of discerning taste but is also a foretaste of his own ruin.

This catalogue entry was prepared by Joanna Tinworth in April 2021. Sir John Soane's Museum is grateful to Emeritus Professor David Bindman for his peer review.

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 Hogarth later depicted Countess Squanderfield at her levée in Marriage A-la-Mode: The Toilette (1743-45). Ladies levées were by repute more frivolous still, the opportunity to invite friends to gossip, observe the donning of their formal outer dress and help them choose their hair ornaments or place their beauty patches.

4 Elizabeth Einberg, William Hogarth, A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, p.136.

5 R. Halsbad (ed), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, The Nonsense of Common Sense, Numb IV, 1738, North Western University, Evaston, 1947, p.16.

6 A kit violin is a very small violin, designed to fit in a pocket, sometimes known as a pochette, French for small pocket. They were popular in the eighteenth century because of their portability. The instrument's body is very small, but its fingerboard is made long relative to the instrument's overall size in order to preserve as much of the instrument's melodic range as possible.

7 The Grub Street Journal, May, 1734 records a duel between two fencing masters named Dubois, one French, one Irish. The French Dubois is generally assumed to be the one depicted by Hogarth.

8 In 1733 after years of collaboration with Handel Senesino joined a rival group ‘the Opera of the Nobility’ where he sang alongside the soprano Farinelli. The third state of the engraving of The Levée indicates other performers’ names on the score on the piano ‘Romulus Sen: [Signor] Fari[nel]li / Ravisher Sen: Sen[esi]no / 2 Ravisher Sen: Car[estri]ne. All the above were castrati, and therefore inappropriately cast as ravishers. As Scull notes, these details ‘can only be appreciated in the engravings: in the painting they would be too laborious to add, requiring a painstaking technique at odds with the lively broad-brush technique Hogarth uses.’ Christina Scull, The Soane Hogarths, 2007, p.36.

9 In the engraving dated 1768 the poet is seen to be reading from a paper entitled ‘Epistle to Rakwe…’

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.


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, 126
David Bindman, Hogarth and his Times: Serious Comedy, Exhibition Catalogue, British Museum, 1997
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 Museum, 2019 pp.17-23
Joanna Tinworth, 'Life in Hogarth's London', Minerva, September/October 2019, pp.40-45
Jacqueline Riding, Hogarth: Life in Progress, 2021

Exhibition history

Hogarth, Tate Britain, London, 2 December 1971 - 6 February 1972
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
Hogarth, Tate Britain, London, 5 February - 29 April 2007
Hogarth: Place and Progress, Sir John Soane's Museum, London, 9 October 2019 - 5 January 2020
A Rake's Progress: Life in the City, Pitzhanger Manor and Gallery, London, 18 March 2020 - 31 December 2020

Associated items

P40, series
P42, series
P43, series
P44, series
P45, series
P46, series
P47, series

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