Marriage A-la-Mode: The Settlement, by William Hogarth

Description

Marriage A-la-Mode is a series of six satirical paintings by William Hogarth that warn against the upper-class practice of contractual marriage, in which matches are made like business transactions, exchanging wealth for entry into the aristocracy. The story develops through the paintings to include scenes of debauchery, disease, unhappiness, the birth of a sickly child and adultery, culminating in murder and the execution of the husband and suicide of the wife.

Hogarth was already famous for his depictions of the seamy underbelly of London, but it was Marriage A-la-Mode and his portrayal of the fashionable elite that solidified his reputation as a great artist and keen social observer.

Symbolism within the painting

This painting – The Settlement – is the first in the series. It depicts the negotiation between the Earl of Squander and a rich city alderman (merchant) over the marriage settlement between the Earl’s son and the alderman’s daughter.

On the right, the Earl of Squander points to an elaborate but suspect-looking family tree which claims ancestry to William the Conquer. He is suffering from gout, a symbol of his extravagant, expensive lifestyle. Sat opposite him, the shrewd alderman closely examines the marriage contract. Gold and bank notes are scattered over the table.

On the other side of the painting sit the newly betrothed couple, ignoring each other. The young aristocrat is dressed in the newest fashions from France and stares at himself in the mirror. On his neck is a black spot, indicating that he has syphilis. His bride sits next to him in her wedding gown, crying. She is comforted by the family lawyer Silvertongue, who whispers in her ear. In the bottom left-hand corner two dogs have been shackled together to encourage breeding, providing a dehumanising parallel to the young couple’s loveless marriage.

Marriage in 18th-century literature

Comparisons can be drawn between Hogarth’s series and the work of Henry Fielding, who tackles class and the marriage market in his comic novel Tom Jones. Tom Jones is barred from marrying his love interest, Sophia, because he belongs to a lower social class. At the same time, Sophia’s status as the sole heiress to her father’s fortune means that her hand in marriage is aggressively sought by rival gentlemen, while her family forcefully broker marriage on her behalf, without her consent.

Full title:
Marriage A-la-Mode: 1, The Marriage Settlement
Published:
c. 1743
Format:
Painting / Image
Creator:
William Hogarth
Usage terms
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives licence
Held by
National Gallery
Shelfmark:
NG113

Related articles

An introduction to The Beggar’s Opera

Article by:
Moira Goff
Themes:
Satire and humour, Theatre and entertainment

The Beggar's Opera was an instant hit and became the most performed play of the 18th century. Moira Goff explores the elements that made up John Gay's work, from its popular tunes and dances to its satirical targets and depiction of a criminal underworld.

‘To lash the age’: John Gay and The Beggar’s Opera

Article by:
Andrew Dickson
Themes:
Theatre and entertainment, Satire and humour

Andrew Dickson introduces The Beggar's Opera and its many satirical targets, including the court of George I, the politician Robert Walpole, the British legal system and Italian opera.

The Rape of the Lock: A darker mirror

Article by:
Andrew Macdonald-Brown
Themes:
Satire and humour, Travel, colonialism and slavery, Gender and sexuality

Andrew Macdonald-Brown shows how Alexander Pope's The Rape of the Lock progresses from satirising the foolishness of wealthy young women to exposing the violence that results from unequal power relations, whether between men and women, rich and poor or imperial powers and colonised nations.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Tom Jones

Created by: Henry Fielding

Tom Jones is a picaresque story that chronicles the humorous escapades, romances and redemption of its roguish ...

The Beggar’s Opera

Created by: John Gay

The Beggar’s Opera (1728) overview John Gay’s The Beggar's Opera survives as the best-known example of a ...

The School for Scandal

Created by: Richard Brinsley Sheridan

The School for Scandal (1777) overview  The critic and essayist William Hazlitt called Richard Brinsley ...

Pamela

Created by: Samuel Richardson

Pamela overview I will bear any thing you can inflict upon me with Patience, even to the laying down of my Life, to ...