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July 2021

Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode – The Inspection

By Elevenses, Marriage a la Mode, Talking art, Uncategorized

Viscountess Squanderfield is absent from Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode – The Inspection, the third painting in the series. And my goodness, doesn’t Viscount Squanderfield look all the better for it? The arranged marriage of an exchange of money for title and the separate lives he and his new wife are living in gloriously bad taste all seem to be set aside here. However, no one else in this image is in quite as marvellous spirits; that’s unsurprising because we’re actually in a doctor’s surgery.

Marriage a la Mode, The Inspection, Hogarth

William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode: The Inspection, 1743, National Gallery, London

We’re in the consulting room of one doctor La Pillule (Dr Pill) along with a pretty angry looking lady who’s flicking open a pocket knife, Squanderfield and a child.

It doesn’t take too much to work out what the trio are doing there, and Hogarth has given us some very good clues as to the relationships between them.

Let’s take the Viscount first. We know that he has syphilis; the black spot on his neck in the first image of the series is ever present. He’s holding out a pill box containing three black pills.

Mercury Pills Marriage a la Mode

There’s a very similar box between his legs right by his groin, and the young lady, who is also positioned between his legs, holds a third identical box (or one of these is the lid). The suggestion is that they’re in it together, that he has passed on the disease to his young mistress and is now taking a passive aggressive approach to the doctor as he explains that his mercury pills aren’t actually working and perhaps the doctor could find a different cure. Good luck with that one!

The lady in the centre is looking back at him possibly as though he’s an absolute idiot (which frankly he is because mercury pills were just about the only known cure for syphilis), or it has been suggested that she’s mad at him because he may have just accused the girl of passing the disease to him rather than the other way round. There’s the possibility, too, that the doctor has just made this very same accusation. Whoever it is pointing the finger, or not, she’s reacting strongly. Why would she care? She cares primarily because this would be very bad for business. I think it’s safe to assume that she’s the girl’s madam. The lady herself has been branded, quite literally, as a prostitute. She has ‘FC’ for ‘female convict’ tattooed just above her left breast, plus there’s something quite bawdy about her dress and demeanour, not to mention that she has those ubiquitous black spots too.

Branded prostitute Hogarth

There are two factors that make this situation even worse: if she’s so cross that the Viscount has accused the girl of passing on the disease, the inference is that she probably sold her as a virgin; and it’s likely that she’s the girl’s mum. Look at the brocade on the woman’s sleeve and compare it to the girl’s skirt. They are made out of the same material. It subtly binds them together. The poor girl has been forced into the same profession as her mum, by her mum, and cuts quite a tragic figure, her clothes are a bit too big for her, she’s dabbing at her lip, perhaps at a sore, with her hanky – Hogarth excels at the little details.

So, in this room full of lies, accusations and tragic figures, does the doctor stand apart as an honest and moral figure? Does he heck! Look at the state of him!

Dr La Pillule Marriage a la Mode The Inspection

 

For a start he looks as though he’s been on the 18th century equivalent of special brew for at least 30 years but it isn’t just that that gives him an odd look. The large forehead, the bridge of his nose that seems to have collapsed, the fact that he doesn’t seem to have any teeth and the extremely bandy legs are all indications that he has…guess what? Congenital syphilis. Even the skull on the table to his right is full of holes suggesting that it has been eroded away by the same disease.

The summer of syphilis peaks right here!!!

As ever with Hogarth the room is another protagonist in this sorry tale.

Propositioned by a skeleton Marriage a la Mode

 

Surely you’d steer clear of a room in which a skeleton was wrapped suggestively around, not to mention groping, an anatomical model whilst a wigged mask broomstick looks on? I love the look on the anatomical model’s face but if illicit sex isn’t tangoing with death here, I don’t know what this is about! BUT the position of the trio behind the Viscount insinuates that this is going on behind his back. Does this reference the young girl or perhaps his wife, or even both? I love the way that Squanderfield pretty much points out this little vignette with his cane, even if this is unwitting on his part.

There are all sorts of other random objects that tell us that Dr La Pillule has a rich and versatile professional life. The contraptions to the right, according to the open book are his own inventions. One is to reset your shoulders and the other is a cork screw. Rather like the image of Medusa in the first painting, there is a creepy head on the shelf that looks as though it has a bone going through it although if you look more closely it’s clear that the bone is attached to the wall. The National Gallery suggest that the head could have been used as an apothecary’s shop sign which tells us that the good doctor is  a chemist too. It would seem, however, that now he’s so sure of receiving customers that he no longer needs to advertise. Either that or he’s under the radar?

Whatever the situation, I think it might be just about to get worse for the young lady. Dr La Pillule is gearing up for an inspection by the way he’s polishing those glasses. The image, after all is entitled ‘The Inspection’. Poor child.

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode – Tête-à-tête

By Elevenses, Marriage a la Mode, Talking art, Uncategorized

The last time we saw this pair, in the first of Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode series, she was a distraught, pale faced young lady who was being handed over to a vain, snuff sniffing dandy with syphilis. The transaction between their fathers was one of a title for money.

Hogarth Marriage a la Mode series Tete a Tete

William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode: Tête-à-tête, 1743, National Gallery, London

Looking at this, we might feel that they’ve actually done rather well. They are in sumptuous surroundings and after all the image is called ‘tête-à-tête’ indicating an intimate conversation, literally ‘head to head’ but look slightly more closely and it’s quite clear that the title is somewhat ironic.

Viscountess Squander Tete a Tete

Let’s take the lady first. She looks very self-satisfied or perhaps just satisfied. Her languid yawn with her arms up reveals her open bodice; we can see her corset which is not terribly ladylike but even worse is the way she’s sitting with her legs akimbo and erm, is that a large wet patch in the centre of her skirt? I’m afraid it is! She’s giving her husband the side-eye so if we were going to be generous, we might decide that they’ve had a riotous time together.

discarded cards Marriage a la Mode Tete a Tete

There’s a pack of cards discarded on the floor, and the violin cases and the music book suggest not so much music in this instance but sex.

Music was often used as an allusion to sexual activity and just look at the way the violin cases happen to be placed on top of each other, and the way that the violin on top protrudes from the case. Hogarth is keen for us to get the picture!Violins Tete a Tete

But looking at him, he’s not so full of himself. Actually I would say that he looks rather dejected, as well as utterly dissipated and hungover. We can see that huge black spot on his neck indicating syphilis so has he perhaps been abstaining? Well, if we read the clues, yes and no.

Remember the dogs in the first image that were chained together but couldn’t even look at each other? It’s man’s best friend that is giving the game away here, too!

What’s the dog sniffing? It’s a bonnet in the Viscount’s pocket and it almost certainly doesn’t belong to the Viscountess. So, it is very much suggested that he’s been out, perhaps to a brothel, whilst she’s stayed at home. However, take a look at the sword on the floor next to him. It’s broken. If a sword is a common phallic symbol, a broken one is a symbol of impotence. So perhaps he abstained through no desire of his own.

Viscount Squander Hogarth

There’s another aspect of the work that could lead us to think of impotence; the bust on the mantlepiece has a broken nose. That is sometimes a signifier of impotence but other readings could be that it indicates adultery (throughout the centuries and across cultures, it hasn’t been uncommon for adulterers to have their nose broken in a fight or otherwise – there’s a story of a wronged wife almost chopping off her rival’s nose in 18th century Paris. It was saved by a surgeon), but I would also conject that it’s another sign of syphilis. My summer obsession!!!

Hideous mantlepiece Tete a Tete

So, it becomes obvious that the Viscount has been out and about and his wife has entertained at home. There are two further clues to note on that score; she’s holding up a mirror in quite an unusual way suggesting that she’s perhaps signalling to her lover who made a hasty exit out of the room, and out of the painting, knocking over a chair in the process.

There’s of course another possibility that they’ve run away from the sheer volume of bad taste in what should be a very elegant room. That’s not an actual theory, it’s just allowed me to segue seamlessly back to the mantlepiece where there’s a lot of tat on display in a mishmash of different guises from Buddhas to weird saint type figurines with big hands. They are the sort of second rate antiquities that were palmed off to gullible 18th century collectors who had more money than sense and taste. Even the bust has a man’s face but the hairstyle of a Roman matron. There’s so much available to be picked apart and discussed by the people viewing this image, who, don’t forget were largely the middle classes who would have been delighted I’m sure to have had the opportunity to have ridiculed the aristocracy for their terrible taste and manners.

It’s the clock, however, that is usually reserved for the most ridicule. Elaborate isn’t the word! A cat flanked by fish ‘swimming’ amongst a whole load of foliage with another Buddha at the base holding a couple of candles. Classy! It also reads 12.10 ish by the looks of things which serves as an indication of just how debauched this pair is. It’s clearly not just past midnight, by the way, otherwise the despairing accountant with a stack of bills and receipts surely wouldn’t be there at all. He’s another indication of the couple’s bad behaviour as is the slovenly servant to the rear of the image who still has his nightcap on by the look of things.

Slovenly servant, Tete a Tete

The servant draws our attention to this area of the room which has four large paintings of saints, (again, the lovely irony!), several smaller images that can’t be made out and then a work with a curtain partially drawn over it. 18th century audiences would immediately identify this as something saucy or lewd, especially as we can see a well turned ankle and a dainty foot poking out. Infrared technology has revealed that Hogarth actually painted a Madonna and child that he later decided to cover up. Perhaps the joke is partially on us?!

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

Hogarth’s Marriage a la Mode – The Marriage Contract

By Elevenses, Marriage a la Mode, Talking art

We’re going to spend the next weeks doing a deep dive under the very murky covers of Hogarth’s extremely famous series of images, collectively called Marriage a la Mode.

Hogarth Marriage a la Mode

William Hogarth, Marriage a la Mode: The Marriage Settlement, 1743, National Gallery, London

We start here in this rather claustrophobic and cluttered bedroom. How do we know it’s a bedroom? The piece of canopied furniture in the top right is a bed. The bedroom as a very private space is a relatively new concept which is lucky because Earl Squanderfield has invited quite a number of people in to a) witness it’s opulence and b) for a rather important negotiation.

I know what you’re thinking at this stage. You’re wondering how I know that this guy is called Earl Squanderfield?

Hogarth created these images to be engraved so they came with captions.

Marriage a la Mode

Let’s look at this negotiation. There’s quite a lot of money on that table, all heading in the Earl’s direction and presided over by a very keen eyed, slender gentleman who is presumably helping to broker the deal. Evidently it’s going well because the burning candle indicates that the documents are about to be sealed with hot wax.

We know that the money belongs or belonged to the man on the left because there’s an almost empty bag at his feet with just a couple of coins spilling out – it seems they’re all that’s left! It’s a good dowry. Is the Alderman willing to pay because his daughter is absolutely besotted with his son and vice versa? Erm, looking at them I don’t think so. They couldn’t seem less interested in each other if they tried. The reason for his willingness to part with a significant amount of cash is Squanderfield’s lineage.

Squanderfield gestures himself with one hand and with the other he’s pointing at a rather comical version of a family tree in which an entire tree appears to have grown out of the stomach of William the Conqueror, or at least a medieval knight. A piece of nonsense? Definitely! But the message is clear. One family have the title, the other the money – match made in heaven. Or not.

Earl of Squander

At this point you may be thinking well, that’s all fine regarding the title but Squanderfield seems to be doing well for himself too. You don’t get gout (which is what the bandaged foot and crutches tell us he’s suffering with) on a vegan, teetotal diet. For that you generally need rich, expensive food and alcohol. Plus, he has a bed that is sumptuous enough to be shown off to illustrious guests and a lot of very fancy paintings on the wall, including a large self-portrait.

Earl of Squander's portrait after Van Loo

Let’s linger on that for a moment because it’s a great insight into Hogarth’s sense of humour.

He used to become particularly agitated on the subject of foreign portraitists who he felt dominated the genre in England to the detriment of English artists. I say English rather than British because Hogarth was known to sign works W Hogarth ‘Anglus’ (English). Van Loo a French portraitist was the favourite at the time so he’s borrowed his style and depicted the Earl wearing the French Order of Saint Esprit, or the Order of the Holy Ghost, a chivalric honour an Englishman could never have been awarded.

It’s hard to know whether Hogarth disliked foreign portraitists or painting portraits himself more. He called it ‘phiz-mongering’!

BUT there’s a clue to suggest that perhaps Squanderfield needs more money, and it’s not just in his name. The fellow looking out of the window is holding a document that has ‘a plan for the new building’ written across the top of it. The fancy building the architect is gazing towards is Squanderfield’s new house so he’s going to want huge sums of money; this marriage is most definitely also in his interest.

Squanderfield's new house Marriage a la Mode
The unhappy couple Marriage Contract

So we should feel sorry for this couple who are merely pawns in a game of wealth and status. The daughter certainly gets my sympathy here. She looks absolutely distraught, wringing her hanky whilst a smarmy looking lawyer called Silvertongue is paying her rather more attention than he should whilst perhaps trying to outline the benefits of this union which she knows she would do well to avoid (but doesn’t have the choice). Just look at her husband to be. He’s certainly impressed with himself even if she isn’t, and is gazing lovingly at his own reflection in the mirror as he takes a pinch of snuff. He’s all dressed up in the latest French fashions, and he even looks to have the French disease. Notice the black spot on his neck?

There may be trouble ahead.

The chained dogs (who can’t even look at each other) reflect that!

As an added extra, the images on the wall are all recognisable as famous works.

The central image on the wall to the left shows a Medusa’s head (after Caravaggio)
To the right of the Medusa is Prometheus gnawed by a vulture (nice!) (after Titian)
Below this is Cain killing Abel (after Titian)
On the upper left The Martyrdom of St. Agnes (after Domenichino)
Below this the Martyrdom of St Lawrence (after Le Sueur, originally after Titian)

On the right hand side, the large image to the left of the portrait is David and Goliath (after Titian)
Beneath this on the lower left St Sebastian (after Titian)
Below to the right Judith and Holofernes (after Titian)

Do you think Hogarth had an artist’s crush on Titian?? Or was he snubbing him by putting him on the wall of such a vulgar fellow as with the Van Loo??

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.

The Barfing Bride

By Bad Royal Marriage, Elevenses, Talking art

The barfing bride?! Um, yes. But first, here’s the barfing bride 15 years on…

George Knapton, The Family of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1751

George Knapton, The Family of Frederick, Prince of Wales, 1751, State Dining Room, Windsor Castle

I want to start with this rather saccharine but clever example of 18th century portraiture which happens to grace the walls of the state dining room at Windsor Castle.

In the centre beneath this huge canopy of state is Augusta Saxe-Gotha and surrounding her are her nine children. Arguably, however, the whole work is dominated by a portrait within a portrait; there’s a rather demonstrative fellow in a painting in the top left corner pointing directly at Augusta and she, in turn, is gazing at the young lad in the blue who happens to be her eldest son who has just become heir apparent and will later become George III.

If we take a closer look she is wearing a widow’s veil. The situation is this:

Augusta Saxe-Gothe was married to Frederick, Prince of Wales whose father was George II. They had nine children, the last of which was born after Frederick shuffled off this mortal coil, apparently as a result of being (accidently) hit in the head by a cricket ball. It’s possible that as a direct result of the blow, he developed an abscess on the lung which burst. And that was the end of him, much to his parents’ ‘delight’. I’m sure they were sad somewhere inside but they didn’t seem to like him much. In fact by all accounts they hated him.

His mother, Queen Caroline is reported to have called him not just an ass or a canaille (meaning dog, riff raff) or a liar or a beast but the GREATEST of all these.

His son, the future George III had more love in him. He said on hearing of his father’s death that he felt something ‘here’ (in his heart), just as he did when a couple of workmen fell off the scaffolding at Kew.

Not a close, loving family then?! Bear all that in mind!

I mentioned that this is quite a clever group portrait. To the right of the work is another work of art within the work of art. This is Britannia a symbol of pride, unity and strength, beneath her is a British lion a symbol of valour and bravery and loyalty. The ‘Magna Carta’ and the ‘Act of Settlement’ to secure Protestant succession to the throne are also included. The symbols of the Constitution are, therefore, on one side, balanced with the line of succession on the other.

Notice too how the young princes are looking at a map referencing the large Empire that Britain ruled over at the time (ironic in retrospect as George III famously ‘lost’ Britain’s colonies in America), and their brothers are playing with ships and flags.

The girls, on the other hand, are all about music and dancing and pets. So cute! Except this one who I think has the cruel family trait. Is she not suffocating that dog?? It’s cross eyed for sure.

A cold cruel family? Maybe. Frankly they could have been anything when Augusta arrived to marry Frederick. She wouldn’t have known because she had barely even time to say ‘Guten Tag’ before she was winched into a wedding dress and marched up the aisle.

This is the real or at least the original theme of this Elevenses. Finally!

Terrible marriages.

So let’s rewind 15 years.

Here’s Augusta aged 16 by an artist called Charles Philips. Poor love.

Augusta the barfing bride

Charles Philips, Portrait of Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, 1736, National Portrait Gallery, London

She’d been sent from Germany speaking virtually no English or French, and the story goes that when she met her parents in law to be, she threw herself at their feet in submission. They may have been impressed at that but not so much that she was still playing with her favourite doll when she arrived. Her sister in law told her to stop when she appeared with her dolly in the window of her residence for anyone to see.

But now we come to the wedding day. Beautiful wedding dress, mother of the groom (Queen Caroline) dressed to the nines. What does the bride do? She pukes all over herself and her prospective mother-in-law. It must have been quite a memorable day to say vows that you don’t understand smelling of vomit with an equally foul smelling Queen translating in your ear.

All that and she never got to be Queen herself!

Here she is again at around the same age in a portrait by Hogarth.

Hogarth. Famously terrible marriages. We have more of that theme coming over the next few weeks…

hogarth augusta saxe gotha

William Hogarth, Portrait of Princess Augusta of Saxe-Gotha, 1736 – 38, National Museum in Warsaw

The video of this episode can be viewed here. To view the entire ‘Elevenses with Lynne’ archive, head to the Free Art Videos page.