In the eighteenth century, the English upper classes were supposed to be a model of the proper way of living. William Hogarth used satire to show how this was not necessarily the case.
A Model of Proper Living
Hogarth wanted to draw attention to the morals – or lack of morals – in English society in his time. Between 1743 and 1745 he created a series of six paintings called Marriage à-la-mode (the French “mariage à la mode” means “fashionable marriage”). In the series we follow the story of an arranged marriage between a bankrupt viscount and the daughter of a rich merchant.
The series pokes fun at those members of the upper class who marry for money or for an aristocratic title. The aim is not only to amuse, but to show the damaging consequences of a marriage of convenience.
The Breakfast Scene
In the second painting, The Tête à Tête (also called the Breakfast Scene, ca.1745), the viscount (husband) and countess (wife) are at home after midday, recovering from separate immoral activities the night before. The wife is slouching low in her chair, looking satisfied. She seems to have been playing cards the night before, and several clues hint that her lover has been there (for example the chair that could have been overturned by him when he rushed out). The bored and tired husband has been out with some other woman, perhaps a prostitute; her cap is hanging out of his pocket, and the spot on his neck is probably from a venereal disease. His pockets are empty of money from gambling. The steward (servant), who works for the couple, is in despair; he disapproves of what has been going on, and in his hand are the couple’s unpaid bills.