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Marriage à la Mode was a satirical series of paintings produced between the years of 1743 and 1745 which poked fun at the wealthier elements of 18th century society.
There would be six paintings in total within the series. Each one captured a group of figures involved in different events with a comedic undertone. All were based indoors, and many of them were themed around some of the seedier goings-on of this era. Hogarth himself is believed to have been one of the earliest satirical artists and this made a major impact within the art world which has since inspired artists all across the world. It is necessary to see the Marriage à la Mode in person in order to get the most from these artworks, as each one features some subtle touches even within the background which continue some of the themes that run through each composition. Whilst retaining great popularity today, these six paintings were not actually received as favourably at the time as Hogarth's other major series, namely A Harlot's Progress and A Rake's Progress.
The Marriage à la Mode series ultimately concentrates on the theme of arranged marriage which were commonplace within England during the 18th century, particularly amongst the richer parts of society. Hogarth uses the six artworks to tell a story which starts with the arrangement of the marriage itself, and then leads into the debaucherous behaviour of all those involved, including friends and family members. It was rare for anyone to question the integrity of the rich and famous during this period, making this artist's work brave and unique. One can draw comparisons between many satirical aspects in modern society with the achievements of Hogarth nearly three centuries ago and it is easy to understand why his career is still held in such high regard. Additionally, it was relatively rare for any artist to produce series of paintings which linked together through a single story at this time as most artworks would be entirely independent of each other, though there are some exceptions found elsewhere in European art.
The paintings capture a tale of an unfortunate marriage, in which the two partners are already displaying misgivings even before the wedding itself has taken place. As we move through the paintings we discover symbols of how their affection for each other is quickly on the wain. The household itself starts to disintegrate and the couple become emotionally and physically distant from each other. We then have a prostitute involved in the fraudulent treatment of the husband in our story, perhaps justice for his own infidelity. There are then suggestions that the woman has also had an affair of her own with a lawyer who appears within several of the paintings. The tragic story concludes with the death of the husband and the suicide of the wife after her lover is taken away, leaving just her wedding ring behind which is then taken by her father as the only remaining item of value. Hogarth essentially tells us of the dangers of arranged marriages and how many of these artificial partnerships will later fall apart.