Marriage à La Mode, Plate 1, "The Marriage Contract"

William Hogarth

English, 1697 - 1764

Richard Earlom

British, 1743 - 1822

Marriage à la Mode, Plate 1, "The Marriage Contract", 1795

  • Not On View

Engraving on paper

Dimensions: 18 1/2 × 23 3/4 in. (47 × 60.3 cm)

Gift of Mr. and Mrs. C. S. Mott, 1964.25

Hogarth's story of two ill-matched young people, and the tragedies that arise from their marriage, begins with the brokering of their union. To demonstrate the purity of his bloodlines, the Earl (seated at the far right) has unfurled his family tree, while the pile of coins for the "sale" of the merchant's daughter has been unceremoniously dropped on the table before him. The Earl is joined by the merchant to review the preparation of the marriage contract, as well a creditor who bears the documents for a mortgage, which likely needs to be settled by the very dowry laid out on the table. The bride's father is bedecked in the symbols of aristocracy, such as his elaborate wig, prominent gold chain, and lavish red coat. Behind them, the lawyer named Silvertongue flirts with the bride, while the younger Squander gazes narcissistically into a mirror. Symbols of wastefulness abound in the partially finished new manor through the window. By filling the space with so much materialistic wastefulness, including so-called masterpieces that line the walls, Hogarth criticized the place of traditional "fine art" in the tastes of a parasitic nobility that wastes its resources on material goods.

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