Marriage à La Mode, Plate 4, "The Toilette"

William Hogarth

English, 1697 - 1764

Richard Earlom

British, 1743 - 1822

Marriage à la Mode, Plate 4, "The Toilette", 1798

  • 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, 1964.28

The fourth installment of the series features a gathering during the lady of the house's toilette, which refers to the process when a woman will get ready for public view, through the application of make-up, fixing her hair, and getting dressed. In attendance are her father-in-law, seated at the far left, two African servants, and in the entourage, her hairdresser. Amongst the reasons to be disturbed by this gathering is the adoption of a seemingly bizarre French custom, whereby the toilette of a lady is made into a spectacle. A popular theme in art at the Parisian Salon, a lady at her toilette had become emblematic of coquetterie in French 18th-century society. The woman at her toilette, then, became a symbol for all that could be contrived in the process of seduction.The type of event for which the young woman is being readied is represented in the scene painted upon the room divider, which features a lavish masquerade ball. Masquerades were indicative of the excesses of 16th-century Venice and the gambling houses to which patrons would often wear disguises. Featured as commercial events in halls and dances, masquerades were seen by many as a direct threat to the morality of urban life. A report from 1721 demonstrates the social resistance to this new form of entertainment: It is Pastime utterly unlawful... an open scene of Outrageous and flaming Debauchery, where Temptation is passionately courted, the wanton imagination indulged to the last degree, so that none who go there return from thence chaste and innocent. In Hogarth's time several illustrators began to portray the toilette as the ultimate preparation for the masquerade. The self-absorption of the toilette was seen to be connected to the display of hyper-sexualization that characterized women who attended the masquerades.

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