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  • image P45
SM P45. ©Sir John Soane's Museum, London. Photo: Art UK

William Hogarth (1697 - 1764)

A Rake's Progress VI: The Gaming House


Oil on canvas

Height: 62.5cm
Width: 75.5cm

Museum number: P45

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 Gaming House
‘The Gaming House’ the sixth scene in the series captures Tom at the precise moment where he has gambled away a second fortune, which he acquired through his marriage, on the throw of a dice. He is shown kneeling in the foreground, his body taut with anger, frustration and despair, fist raised and clenched, his expression frenzied as he grinds his teeth at his ill-luck, his first visible sign of madness. He is still finely dressed in a blue coat with silver lacing and a waistcoat with coral lining, fastened diagonally, the height of fashion and designed to show off an opulent display of many buttons. However, in his distress he has overturned his chair and his wig has fallen to the floor where it lies forgotten next to his empty purse.

The words ‘Covent Gar…’ inscribed on the collar of the dog to Tom’s right places this scene in a Covent Garden gambling hell, rather than one of the St James’s gentlemen’s clubs where gambling was rife in Hogarth’s time.3 The popularity of gambling is reflected in the eighteen people of varying classes closely packed into the room, most so intent upon their betting, or its consequences, that they fail to notice that the room is on fire. A night-watchman carrying his lantern and staff, not unlike those Tom stole in scene three, has rushed into the room upon seeing smoke, to the surprise of a gambler in a red coat with gold braid. Just two men, one of them a croupier with a lighted torch and a money-rake, stare horrified at the smoking ceiling. Hogarth may be alluding to the fire which burned White’s club - infamous for the fortunes lost there - to the ground on 28 April 1733, and which apparently originated in a gaming room called ‘Hell’.4

Tom is not alone in having lost his fortune, possibly in a game of Hazard, an extremely popular game of chance played with two dice,5 as there are no cards on the table.6 Across the table another man, wigless like Tom, is restrained by a tipsy looking gentleman whilst brandishing his sword at the corpulent man seated at the gaming table raking in all the winnings. The inference is that the winner has cheated and perhaps the dice were ‘loaded’. A man seated opposite Tom cowers from the sword and next to him a lightly sketched black woman7 appears to lean in to offer him a kiss.

Very few characters in this scene are not ruled by a love of money or gaming. To the right of the painting a finely dressed nobleman with gold lacing to his black coat waits for the plainly dressed moneylender to note that he has ‘Lent to L[or]d Cogg £500’ so that he can carry on gambling. Behind the moneylender a cleric hides his face from the watchman, presumably embarrassed at being found in such a den of iniquity. To the left of the winner stand two other men, one a moustachioed Chinaman in a red-coned hat and coat, both eagerly counting their gold, whilst behind them a loser stands before the fire, hugging himself and biting his nails in misery. In front of the fire is a tall metal guard, often installed in gambling houses to prevent gamesters from injuring themselves in despair when they lost.8 Warming himself in front of the fire, sits a sullen looking man, with long, natural white hair wearing a caped outdoor coat that inadequately disguises the pistols and mask that hang from his inner pocket and mark him out as a highwayman. His degree of detachment suggests that he is interested in the gaming only so far as he can fix on a winner whom he can follow home and rob: his sideways glance seems focused on the portly man at the table.

The scene is redolent of folly, avarice, greed and despair. The black dog, traditionally a symbol of depression and melancholy has raised its front paws on the chair overturned by Tom and is barking at him, indicating the imminent failure of his reason and the fact that he is unlikely to know peace again as a consequence of his moral choices.

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 See the allusion to White’s club in the engraving associated with SM P43 discussed in the catalogue entry for that work.
4 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 fn. 67 quotes H.M.C., Egmont MSS., Diary of Viscount Percival, vol. i, 1920, p.369.
5 https://www.britannica.com/topic/hazard-dice-game Thomas Rowlandson’s not dissimilar composition The Hazard Room, 1792, depicted an equally disparate and vibrant group preoccupied by playing hazard. https://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O239120/the-hazard-room-watercolour-thomas-rowlandson/
6 The majority of games played in ‘hells’ were based on luck, such as games with dice, whereas the elite clubs favoured card-based games of skill.
7 This character is sketchily outlined but examination under a microscope in March 2021 with painting conservators confirmed that Hogarth has applied two paint layers, a pale flesh colour, upon which he has superimposed a darker paint to achieve the desired colour. Both paints are beneath later layers of varnish which have discoloured making this part of the painting rather gloomy. I am grateful to Amy Griffin of Tate and Melanie Caldwell, freelance conservator, for their advice.
8 Rouquet, Jean Andre, Lettres de Monsieur*** a un de ses amis a Paris pour lui expliquer les estampes de Hogarth, 1746.

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
P43, series
P44, series
P46, series
P47, series
P45, series

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