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Tom Gurney BSc (Hons) is an art history expert with over 20 years experience
Published on June 19, 2020 / Updated on October 14, 2023
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Wild Party by William Hogarth is an oil on canvas painting, height: 62.5 cm (24.6 in); width: 75 cm (29.5 in). It is no.3 of a series of eight, called The Rake's Progress, painted by the artist from 1734-1734.

The series shows, in great detail, the decline of a wealthy heir Tom Rakewell. All are occurring from the time he comes to London in the first painting, to his eventual descent into madness. As well as being an artist of superb quality, Hogarth was an accomplished engraver as well. Indeed, each painting in The Rakes Progress had an accompanying engraving, which Hogarth had the foresight to copyright at the time. It was no coincidence so that Hogarth published the engravings on 25 June 1735. This publication is the same day that the Engravers Copyright Act came into law.

The Wild Party by William Hogarth, also known as The Tavern Scene or the Orgy Scene, depicts a party taking place in a brothel. It is well known that the location of the excitement was the Rose Tavern, a famous brothel in Covent Garden at the time. This reasoning is possible because Hogarth grew up in the Spitalfields area of London. He would have been well acquainted with the seedy nature of the city during this time. The painting depicts Tom Rakewell, the subject of the series, at his most vulnerable. In it, he is in a state of utter drunkenness. Surrounded by prostitutes from the Rose Tavern, Tom sits with his sword by his side and his leg on the table. He is oblivious to the fact the prostitutes are stealing his watch. The one with her hand in his shirt passes the watch to a lady situated behind the misfortunate Tom.

On the walls behind them hang framed prints of various Roman emperors; Agustus, Titus, Vitellius and Vespasian. As a stand-alone painting, The Wild Party by Hogarth is a fascinating work, full of detail. It has enough going on within it, to keep the eye of the viewers busy. However, when taken into context with the other paintings in the series, it becomes part of what may be the first story-board ever painted in such detail. The series is currently hanging in The John Sloane Museum, Lincoln Inn Fields, Holborn, London, formerly the home of the neo-classical artist John Sloane.