W. Hogarth - The Marriage a-la-Mode

'The Marriage a-la-Mode" is perhaps the most famous of all Hogarth's moral series and it consists of six engravings. The subject of the series is contemporary high life and a marriage based on money and vanity.
"The Marriage Contract" shows us Hogarth's central characters, inspired by the increasing vogue for marital alliances between old aristocratic families and members of the commercial bourgeoisie. Here, the elegant Lord Squandfild probably points to the family's lineage. He accepts a pile of banknotes from the ungainly, unfashionably dressed merchant, and exchanges them for the mortgage documents proffered by an emaciated usurer. Meanwhile, the future couple displays mutual indifference as the Earl's foppish son gazes admiringly at his own reflection, which is not so perfect, we can see a spot, caused by syphilis. As for his fiancée, she plays with her handkerchief and listens to the blandishments of the smooth-talking lawyer Silvertongue.
The main purpose of the scene "Early in the Morning" is to reflect the increasing indifference between the married couple. Besides, the dissolute way of life led them to the financial difficulties. The interior decoration of the couple's home serves as an emblem of their unsatisfactory relationship.
The action of the third picture "The Inspection" takes place in the Museum where he came because of the syphilis was there result of the womanizing. At his side we can see a demure young girl holding a pile box, supposing that she is afflicted and may, indeed, be the sours from whom the Earl has picked up the illness.
The next picture, "The Toilette", shows the Countess surrounded by a group of parasites Tom Rakewell’s entourage. A group of foolishly foppish guests sit idly drinking tea and exchanging gossip, while the lawyer Silvertongue makes an assignation with Countess.
The picture "The Death of the Earl" depicts the Earl falls to the floor, having lost his life in a duel with Silvertongue, whom he has caught red-handed with his wife. The lawyer, dressed only in his nightshirt, scrambles through the window while the night watch bursts through the door, stunned by the scene that awaits them. The Countess claps her hands in supplication amidst her discarded clothes and a face mash from the evening's earlier entertainment.
The name of the last picture is "The Death of the Countess". The series comes full circle, closing in the home of the merchant with its view over London Bridge. Besides the simple furnishings of the Earl's apartment and vulgar Dutch paintings, we can see the uncarpeted floor, broken windows, emaciated dog and unappetizing meal. And in these inauspicious surroundings the Countess's life has come to an end. In the finale embrace the Countess's childe kisses the prostrate corpse. Leg irons revel that the child suffers from rickets, a disease that was considered to be the most incurable in the eighteenth century. The black spot on the child's check also betrays the signs of syphilis passed on by the young Earl. The congenital handicaps inflicted on the child by parental misdeeds are compounded, in the final irony, by the fact that the child is a girl: the family tree, so proudly brandished by the Earl in the opening scene, has withered and will die.

William Hogarth


During the 18th century the truly national school of painting was created, William Hogarth was the first great English painter who raised British pictorial art to a high level of importance. W. Hogarth is regarded as a great humorist whose prints provided an anatomy of his own time which could be compared with Shakespeare's depiction of Elizabethan England. He is also distinguished as a moralist and satirist on canvas. Hogarth's personality was contradictory as well as contradictory directions in his art. He was a fighter in argument, yet deeply hurt by criticism. He could be rude in his judgments and at the same time he was able of making delicate remarks. For him the audience was his own contemporaries and their verdict was of great importance to him. William Hogarth was the son of a schoolmaster, who wasn't successful in life and spent some years in Fleet Prison for debts. It affected the painter's childhood, especially his father's stories about the sufferings people had to endure in prison. William wasn't educated anywhere as he was taken early from school and served as an apprentice to a silver engraver. When he was 20 his father died and William couldn't expect to find an easy road to success and fame.
Hogarth was a social painter who produced his own pictorial drama. He depicted various scenes of society's social life. His cruel satire was directed mainly at aristocracy but he did not spare the middle and lower classes. He showed the terrible evils of the society with unprecedented courage. He observed life with a keen and critical eye. His art was a reflection, an interpretation and a commentary on the social condition of his time.
William Hogarth was a man of individual character and thought and he considered himself independent of any foreign influences as a self- taught artist. He was not always successful but he created his unique style coupled with his own life experience. He called his pictures of social life "modern moral subjects", a direction absolutely new in British Art. He organized pictorial images into series which tell a complete story of contemporary life. His pictures possess elaborate plots, dramatic conflicts and tragic elements. We "read" his pictures as we read a novel and our pleasure increases with the number of details we notice and jokes we understand. Among his favorite works are six pictures united under the title "Marriage a-la-Mode". This famous series is really a novel in paint telling the story of the marriage of an earl's son and a city merchant's daughter. This marriage is based on vanity and money, and it is doomed to a tragic end. The possibility of affection between the young couple is destroyed by the false position they have been placed in by their parents, as they are forced not to love each other but to play roles as rake and woman of pleasure. Hogarth was also a brilliant portrait painter. In portraiture he displayed a great variety.
The charm of childhood and a delightful delicacy of color appear in "The Graham Children". This picture is notable for its play of expression and movement and for the freshness of its color. The portraits of Hogarth's servants are penetrating studies of character. There is no hint of satire here.
The painting of Captain Coram is a brilliant example of a ceremonial portrait.
Hogarth's self-portrait is a remarkable piece of work giving a very life-like image of the "candid, honest, obstinate little man" as his wife called him. By him sits a little dog, his favourite Trump. The famous "Shrimp Girl" takes its place among the masterpieces in its harmony of form and content, its freshness and vitality.

Joshua Reynolds


In the second half of the 18th century narrative and satirical themes lost their leading roles in English art. The ruling classes tried to show in art a confirmation and glorification of their social position. The most popular form of painting became ceremonial portraits of representatives of the ruling class. Sir Joshua Reynolds was the most outstanding portraitist of the period. He was born in Devonshire in 1723, he received a good education from his father who was a clergyman and master of the free grammar school. At 17 Reynolds went to London to study painting. In London he soon became a fashionable portrait painter of the day. In December 1768 the Royal Academy was founded and Reynolds became its first president. He created a whole gallery of portraits of the most famous of his contemporaries. He usually painted his characters in heroic style and showed them in all their glory as the best people of the nation. As a result his paintings are not free of a certain idealization of the sitters. One of the portraits to establish his reputation is "Commodore Keppel". This is a full-length portrait. The motive was suggested by Keppel's effort to save the crew of his ship, "the Maidstone", after her wreck in 1747. The attitude of the figure against a stormy background is full of grace and energy. The captain is shown striding along the sea shore in a new and vital way
The contradictory features of Reynolds' art are well seen in his historical and mythological paintings. "The Infant Hercules Strangling Serpents" was ordered by Catherine II of Russia. According to the Greek poet Pindar, Hercules was the natural son of Zeus and Queen Alcmena. The jealous Hera, Zeus' wife put these snakes in his bed. The large painting is complex in composition but it creates a uniform impression, due to-the carefully placed figures and golden brown color scheme.
Reynolds as a painter was greatly influenced by old masters, and made careful studies of Rembrandt, Titian, Michelangelo and Raphael. He didn't want British art to be isolated. He insisted that artists should be brought up in line with European art and that they should develop the Grand style of painting. As a president of the Royal Academy Reynolds delivered lectures. He taught his pupils that it was possible to learn the rules of art and use ideas of the old masters to create a new style of one's own. His aim was to rival the old masters in their own language but not to copy them. He insisted that each sitter should be not just a physical representative to be portrayed but rather a story to be told. His people are no longer static but caught between one moment and the next, between this movement and the next. His aim wasn't to catch a convincing likeness of the originals but to show their features of character? And Reynolds succeeded in revealing his sitters’ inner world.
Reynolds’ “Portrait of Nelly O’Brien”, a well-known beauty of the time, is a masterpiece in which lighting and color show the artist’s technique at its best. There is even an effect of open-air light, rare for the period. A fine colorist and a master of composition, Reynolds was regarded by his contemporaries as “the prince of portrait-painters”. Attention to a man’s personality, striving to reveal a man’s spiritual wealth are combined with traits of intimacy and fine elegancy in Reynolds’ portraits. His work is respected in most public and private collections and he is splendidly shown in The Royal collection. All in all he has created over 2000 portraits during his lifetime.

History in brief

In England the greatest of arts has always been literature. English literature has had a continuous history since the Middle Ages, while in the pictorial arts England's achievements have been concentrated in two widely separated periods:
1. The Middle Ages
2. The 18-19th centuries
The first of these periods was the Middle Ages and for about 400 years the work of English artists was as fine as any in Europe. Although not many works of that period were preserved, we have reasons to believe that the quality of the paintings, especially in the 13th century, was very high. Possibly the best known work of that period is the so-called Wilton Diptych. But in the early 15th century the English tradition in painting came to an end. For the next 300 years pictorial art in England was determined by the continental influence. All leading painters were foreigners by origin and training. It was only in the first part of the 18th century that the native tradition was reborn and the second period in the history of English painting began.
The most significant contribution of the English to painting was during the three of the following periods of the European culture:
- the Age of Reason,
- the Age of Classicism,
- the Romantic Movement.
It was not surprising that English painting was so high because each of these three periods put forward some qualities linked with English character.
l. The Age of Reason proclaimed clarity as the aim of arts It was the time of bourgeois revolution which changed English society setting up a sort of bridge between classes Net in painting these changes were not obvious because in the arts aristocracy continued to set the tone. The most developed branch of painting was the portrait. The central figure of the period was Van Dyck (1599-1641), who in spite of his being a foreigner was the first to revive English national traditions in painting. He also made popular the type of portrait in a landscape background. This feature distinguished English portraits from continental practice.
2. The Age of Classicism of the second part of the 18th century reflected English love for elegance and beauty of line. Portraiture was still essentially a social art The aim of it was not to explain individual psychology but to depict a character and glorify national achievements The theoretician of English Classicism was Sir Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792). He put forward the three principles of English Classicism in painting:
1) historical painting is the highest form of arts,
2) nature should be represented in painting in its idealized form,
3) the artist must model his works on the works of masters of the past.
Reynolds may be considered the head of typical English classicists. But English classicism contained many schools and tendencies Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788). for instance, was a prominent portraitist and landscape painter William Hogarth (1697-1764) was famous for his portraits and at the same time he distinguished himself in genre painting, depicting scenes of everyday life.
3. The Age of Romanticism. The Romantic movement of the 19th century revealed the passion of the English for nature and sentiments It was the period when for the first time landscape became more important for painters, than portraiture. During the Romantic period the attitude of the artists towards nature became at once more exact and more imaginative. The best representatives of romantic painters in England were Joseph Turner (1775-1851) and John Constable (1776- 1837). They both treated nature in a spirit of almost scientific curiosity They knew perfectly well physical aspects of weather effects (fogs and mists), they knew the anatomy of human body, they knew the anatomy of the tree Yet their art was not over detailed or pedantic. On the contrary, the romantic painters worked with a new freedom of style. They regarded nature as something in a continuous change.
The Pre-Raphaelites. This group of painters was founded in 1848 They were John Millais (1829-1896), William Hunt (1827-1910), Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1828-1882), Edward Burne-Jones (1833-1898) It introduced some valuable qualities into English painting, for example, an interest in primitive Italian painting, pre-Rafael. They also paid attention to sharp detail and brilliant colours.