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Marriage à la Mode Plate 1 (The Marriage Contract)
17.5'' x 21.5''
Engraving with etching
1745

Marriage à la Mode, a series of six etchings by English engraver and painter William Hogarth, was printed as social commentary for the 18th-century audience comparable to our modern dramas. In this series Hogarth focuses on the misery of an arranged marriage between the daughter of an upper-class merchant family and the son of a destitute noble family attempting to maintain their wealthy status. At a time when arranged marriages were the subject of numerous deliberations, this series exemplifies Hogarth’s belief in its dangers as he depicts the unflattering and tragic events of the bride and groom and their respective families.

In this first image, the two fathers, Lord Squanderfield and a poor merchant, are pictured in Squanderfield’s lavish home signing a marriage contract. The Lord’s foot is bandaged and resting on a footstool, alluding to his affliction with gout, a then common disease associated with overindulgence. He points to a family tree to demonstrate the important bloodline of his family. The groom and bride-to-be sit in opposite corners with their backs to one another emphasizing their lack of interest in this arranged match. The groom admires himself in a mirror while his wife-to-be finds solace in Councilor Silvertongue, a character who plays an important role later in the narrative.

— Printed by Gérard Scotin.