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The Tête à Tête, from Marriage à la Mode

Updated: Jun 4, 2022

The Tête à Tête. William Hogarth. 1743 CE. Oil on canvas.

Some Context:

This painting was made during the 18th century when the Industrial Revolution was occuring. Due to industrialization, the middle class was growing and they began to want to purchase art. Prior to this, art had mainly existed for aristocrats, princes, monarchs, and the church, basically only important people. Now, art was becoming more readily available to the middle class. The painting pictured above was a part of Hogarth's six painting series titled Marriage à la Mode, which stands for fashionable marriage. The series mainly criticizes the aristocracy and is prompted by the idea that at the time marriages were arranged for economic benefits rather than love. The series focuses on a family called the Squanderfields, suggesting that they have squandered their fortune. Hogarth's goal was to use these paintings as models for prints that he would sell at a cheaper price.

What is going on?

The man and woman sitting in the separate chairs are married, but, quite frankly, they look miserable. We can tell that they are an aristocratic couple by their clothing and the luxurious house. The husband has come home from a night of partying and flirting. The dark patch on his neck is syphilis, implying that he has been unfaithful. To further emphasize his infidelity, the dog sniffs another woman's hat in the husband's coat. Also, the painting subtly suggests that the wife has been unfaithful. She wears a flirtatious smile and the chair is tipped over, suggesting that lovemaking was occuring before the husband arrived home. The man in distress to the left is the family manager or accountant. He looks upset as he holds receipts because the couple has not been paying their bills, and they refuses to take their financial situation seriously.

Why is it significant?

It is important to remember that this painting shows the effects of the Industrial Revolution because it reflects the growing middle class and how they began to purchase art. In addition, Hogarth is trying to show that arranged aristocratic marriages were unpleasant and the opposite of an ideal marriage because they were strategically arranged for economic benefits rather than love. Remember that this painting is making fun of the superficiality of aristocratic marriages. Also, it reflects the growing interest in printmaking and engravings because Hogarth intended for this series of paintings to serve as models for prints.

A satirical attempt to make fun of the rich and wealthy.


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