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  • image P43
SM P43. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photo: Art UK

William Hogarth (1697 - 1764)

A Rake's Progress IV: The Arrest


Oil on canvas

Height: 62.5cm
Width: 75.2cm

Museum number: P43

Not on display

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 Arrest
The fourth scene in A Rake’s Progress reintroduces Sarah Young, Tom’s pregnant lover, to whom he had promised marriage before rejecting her in scene one. She is his sole and constant supporter throughout the series and his repudiation of her enduring care is his ultimate folly.

Tom’s aspirations to be accepted into elite society culminate in this attempted visit to the royal court. St James’s Palace is in the background, its clock showing 1.40pm as a crush of carriages queue down St James’s Street. The leeks in the hats of two of the men (probably Welshmen) in this scene indicate it is March 1st, St David’s Day, which was also Queen Caroline’s birthday and a public reception is being held to mark the occasion.3 On the royal birthday courtiers were expected to appear in splendid new clothes especially tailored for the occasion.4 Failure to dress appropriately could result in being denied access to the monarch’s court.5

In contrast with ‘The Orgy’ Tom is therefore in this scene shown finely and fashionably attired. His white wig is neatly tied with ribbon and he is in full court dress, his breeches and white shirt topped with a coat heavy with gold braid, down the front, from wrist to elbow, at the waist and to the edges of the skirt; even his gloves are trimmed with gold fringing. His finery, as at his levée in scene two, is mere sham.

Tom has dissipated his father’s fortune and is in debt. His depiction under the sign of ‘HUDSON / SADLER’ suggests the money has been spent gambling and horseracing. The curtains of his sedan chair are closed; presumably he hopes not to be seen by his creditors. However, one of his creditors, dressed plainly but elegantly, his hands in a fur muff and sword by his side, has run him to ground and commissioned two constables or bailiffs, both armed with staffs, to stop Tom’s chair and present a warrant for his arrest. The milestone in the foreground on the right of the painting marks the boundary of the precincts of the royal palace of St James’s within which the bailiffs would have no authority, and no doubt Tom had hoped to reach this safe haven unrecognised. His mouth foolishly agape with surprise, Tom is tugged out of the sedan chair and drops his gold-topped cane which is quickly appropriated by a ragged street child.

Tom is rescued from having to visit a very different ‘court’ by the timely intervention of Sarah Young who rushes to his aid. She is plainly and modestly dressed and the box of ribbons with her name printed on it suggests she is a milliner, or hat-maker, a respectable but not well-paid trade. She offers her purse, presumably containing all her savings, to the arresting constable in an act widely acknowledged as having parallels with the angel intervening as Abraham sacrifices Isaac,6 Sarah being cast as an angel of mercy. The grinning lamplighter to the left, up his ladder and in the act of filling a street lamp with oil from a can, is distracted by the scene below and pours oil on Tom’s wig. This is sometimes perceived as another biblical allusion, this time to Tom being anointed,7 Sarah’s action giving him the chance to start afresh and reform his ways. However, it also marks Tom out as an ‘anointed rogue’.8

Of all the paintings that comprise A Rake’s Progress, ‘The Arrest’ is the one that Hogarth most dramatically reworked when he engraved the scene, developing it through a series of ‘states’. In the engravings he increases the number of references to the way Tom wasted his fortune through gambling. The sunny aspect of the painting becomes successively cloudy and then stormy. By the second and third states of the engraving an almost cartoon-like bolt of lightning ending in an arrow, like a judgement from the Gods, points at the now sign-posted aristocratic White’s club,9 notorious for its high stakes gambling and the fortunes won and lost there.10 Hogarth also adds a group of street urchins playing cards - one child literally losing the clothes off his back - all seated by a post inscribed ‘BLACKS’ indicating a junior and less elite alternative to the gambling taking place in White’s.11 Hogarth presents gambling as endemic in eighteenth-century society and harmful to those who participate in it.

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.

April 2024: while this picture is not on display for a period for conservation a facsimile has been substituted

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 The second painting in the series was set in 1727 according to the inscription on the punch bowl. This is presumably 1728 or later as Queen Caroline (1683-1737) ascended the throne as the consort of King George II in June 1727.
4 Robert Bucholz, ‘Going to Court in 1700: a visitor’s guide’, The Court Historian, 5:3, 2000, p.193 and f.n.49.
5 Robert Bucholz, ‘Going to Court in 1700: a visitor’s guide’, The Court Historian, 5:3, 2000, pp.181-215, particularly pp.194-96 is a comprehensive study of the relative ease of access to various types of royal or court entertainment in late seventeenth and early eighteenth century England. Bucholz cites a persons’ dress as a key factor in gaining access. He notes that ‘despite being dressed in his best clothes and lace ruffles … a young man lacking social connections, only got past the ushers stationed at the doors at one such [birthday or anniversary] event during the reign of George I by pretending to be part of the train if the grandee in front of him.’ Alternatively the thrice-weekly drawing room held after the monarch attended chapel each week ‘provided the easiest and most regular access to the monarch and his court. To attend one had merely to maintain the appearance of gentility, though a somewhat more elaborate dress than everyday wear was recommended.'
6 Christina Scull, The Soane Hogarths, 2007, pp.40-41 and Mark Hallett and Christine Riding, Hogarth, 2006, p.90.
7 Christina Scull, The Soane Hogarths, 2007, pp.40-41, and Mark Hallett and Christine Riding, Hogarth, 2006, p.91.
8 Elizabeth Einberg, William Hogarth, A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings, 2016, p.136 quotes John S. Farmer, Dictionary of Slang, 1890.
9 White’s was founded in 1693 at 69 St James’s Street, on the west side, roughly in the middle, where the Carlton Club is located in the twenty-first century. Hogarth’s engraving shows White’s at the lower end of St James’s Street because there was a fire in the building on 28 April 1733 and until it was rebuilt in 1735 the licensee, Mr Robert Arthur temporarily had premises at the lower end of St James’s Street. By 1754, despite expanding to 68 St James’s, Arthur required a still-bigger house and bought the freehold of 37-38 St James’s Street on the upper part of the east side where the club can still be found today. F H W Sheppard (ed.), 'St. James's Street, West Side, Past Buildings', in Survey of London: Volumes 29 and 30, St James Westminster, Part 1, 1960, pp.459-471. For the equivalent view of St James’s towards the palace photographed in 2019 see David Bindman (ed.), Hogarth: Place and Progress, p.64. Many eighteenth and nineteenth century shopfronts remain.
10 Christina Scull, The Soane Hogarths, 2007, pp.40-41. See also Ronald Paulson, Hogarth’s Graphic Works, Third Revised edition, 1989, pp.307-10 for larger examples of the prints, though Paulson identifies the states differently to Scull.
11 It is just possible that the child on the farthest right of the print is a black child, as indicated by the long, thick, full, dark wig, Hogarth’s intention being to re-inforce the reference to the ‘Blacks’ sign he sits beneath, which is a pun on White’s gaming house and Tom’s downfall due to excessive gaming. However the features of all the children look generally similar and there is more than one elaborate wig pictured amongst the group so this may not have been Hogarth’s purpose.

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 and 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
P41, series
P42, series
P44, series
P45, series
P46, series
P47, series
P43, series

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