Hogarth’s Morality Paintings and other inspirations

As part of my desire to create more meaningful art I have been looking at Hogarth’s Morality Paintings. In around 1743 he created a series of paintings called Marriage A-la-Mode. They are a series of six paintings that he created with the intent to make engravings from them as that was how Hogarth made much of his income.

Hogarth used many different techniques to tell a complete story. He used symbolism that was widely known at the time to suggest certain moral themes.

In the Marriage A-la-Mode series he included references to moral depravity such as painting a black spot on someone’s skin to denote the sexually transmitted disease syphilis. Hogarth’s moral series was satirical in nature, placing parodies of well-known history paintings and French contemporary art within the scene by way of including other moral messages. He included images that would have been shocking at the time.

William Hogarth 
Marriage A-la Mode: 1.
The Marriage Settlement 
Oil on canvas 
Not on display
© The National Gallery, London

You can see this in the first Marriage-A-la-Mode painting The Marriage Settlement. The scene is one depicting the conclusions of negotiations between the Earl of Squander and the alderman. The alderman is a rich merchant who wishes to elevate his family’s social position by buying his way into the aristocracy. You can see the intended Groom, the Earl’s son looking away from his intended wife. On his neck you can see the black spot denoting he has syphilis, no doubt caught during his time in France. His bride-to-be is distraught and looking away from him, being comforted by the lawyer. This is denoting that the marriage is a loveless one of pure convenience and mutual benefits for the families. Stood in the background is a faceless black servant.

Hogarth also completed two series of theatre sets, one called A Harlot’s Progress and the sequel A Rake’s Progress. The engravings he sold were immensely popular as Hogarth’s deliberate satirical depiction of the aristocracy was evident to some but completely missed by the aristocracy who commissioned them.

A Rake’s Progress III The Orgy
c. 1735
Oil on canvas, 62,5 x 75 cm
Sir John Soane’s Museum, London

I have been looking at modern moral themed realism art also. The Kitchen Sink artists painted scenes of everyday life, warts and all. Everything was included, no matter how unpalatable they may have been.

You can see this in John Bratby’s paintings The Toilet and Table Top and Peter Coker’s Table and Chair. In Table Top Bratby includes everything on the table. It was work such as this that the term ‘Kitchen Sink’ painters came from, because they included ‘everything but the kitchen sink’.

I want to be able to include certain things in my paintings to symbolise what I am trying to say. Future research will be focussed on modern-day symbolism and how certain political and social attitudes are depicted in contemporary art today.

Experimentation will be on whether I can include the symbolism but in a pop art style. I will be looking at modern day political satire and activism in art. In this computerised age, is it possible to make politically satirical themes through painting alone? And can I do it using the bra as the subject? I never thought that an idea that started as a joke would become such an important subject for me to paint.

Published by Tracy J Hughes

English artist living and working in Wales. A BA and MA Fine Art graduate from Aberystwyth University. Working in acrylic paint and coloured pencil creating still lifes and beach scenes.

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