Marriage a la Mode II: The Tete a Tete works like a meme rather than just a painting. That’s because William Hogarth was more than a mere master painter. He was a writer and satirist with an unabashed bawdiness and humor that made Hogarth an icon. In fact, his work punctuated a significant part of the social milieu to the point that “Hogarthian” refers to art done in his satirical style even today.
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French & Italian Art Influences
Evident from its title, Marriage a la Mode II: The Tete a Tete plays the second part in a series. This painting exemplifies the social culture of England in the mid 1700s -Hogarth’s time. It’s also a perfect example of how French and Italian painting influenced Great Britain with its subject matter and style. Hogarth painted with fresh and free brushwork in a hearty nod to the French artists of his day. He used this style with such distinctive flair that many consider Hogarth the most iconic artist of his generation in England.
We see the Italianate influence in the way Hogarth filled the walls of the scene with Italian paintings. These were beloved by the British upper class. But the other artworks littering the setting, such as the Rococo clock and porcelain figures from China, tell a different story. They represent shallow and silly showboating. Hogarth saw these types of objects as heartless and working against nature. He looked down on such bourgeois affectations and used them to help tell the story of the ridiculous duo in Marriage a la Mode II: The Tete a Tete. This was a key piece in his morality series about marriage and stands out as his masterpiece among many popular and salient artworks.
LadyKflo’s YouTube Summary
Hogarth’s Humor and Morality
The six paintings in Hogarth’s series Marriage a la Mode serve as a satirical indictment of society marriages in the 18th century. The painter held secular and rather unfashionable opinions at the time. High class marriages of the 1700s were often set up to suit societal positions and security rather than love. This wasn’t just common; it was expected. Hogarth found the predominance of this practice ridiculous. We see that throughout the series but with crystal clarity in Marriage a la Mode II: The Tete a Tete.
In this second canvas Hogarth portrays a mismatched marriage to comic effect. But there’s also a sickly element to the setting. The topic of marrying for money or convenience was buzzworthy in 18th century England. People were talking and writing about this because upper class society ran rampant with monetarily-based marriages.
Hogarth captured the drama, highlights, and humor of these unromantic couplings with a keen eye for detail. At heart, he was a master storyteller. Even though Marriage a la Mode conveys a tragedy in six parts, it takes us on a roller coaster of emotions. The way Hogarth makes us laugh and snort with disdain along the way gives the heartbreaking ending to the series an even more powerful impact. The story in six parts starts with the signing of the marital contract and ends with three of the main characters dead.
The second canvas, Marriage a la Mode II: The Tete a Tete earmarks the most amusing part of this story. Hogarth spotlights the inherent mismatch of the marriage with this chapter. A tête-à-tête refers to an intimate conversation between two people. So, the title points to how this scene should be private. Hogarth gives us a peek behind society’s curtain into the secret world of a miserable, mismatched, marriage.
Money Matters in Marriage
Trappings of superficial, gaudy appetites surround the couple. For Hogarth, these items represent the artificiality inherent to this marriage of convenience. No matter how pricey, knick knacks can’t fill the void between this unhappy duo. In fact, their facial expressions show opposite emotional states. She seems smug and flighty with her arms upraised. He’s withdrawn with a sad resignation. The tiny dog pulls a lady’s cap out of his pocket to show us that he’s already engaged in an affair. Standards of the time also point to his wife’s infidelity due to her casual posture and loose hair.
These were obvious signs of cheating at the time, though they seem subtle now. But the rest of the story reads as clear today as it did in 1743 when Hogarth painted this. The overturned chair, distressed help, and haphazard cloths and papers strewn about the scene characterize a disaster. I also love the way Hogarth sets the couple apart from each other; limbs akimbo and fine attire rumpled. They’re a mess that money can’t fix. That’s Hogarth’s message.
Marriage a la Mode II: The Tete a Tete conveys the lack of love with an amusing frivolity. Still, Hogarth gives us such a fully realized story that we get a holistic picture with greater depths than a mere joke. After all, marriage is serious business. That’s especially true when it’s based on finances and social status. We can feel this undercurrent in The Tete a Tete with the palpable tension and overwhelming clutter. It’s as if a storm brews underneath the fancy feet and lavish carpets of this divergent pair. Their demise feels inevitable… and we’re only on chapter two.
Marriage a la Mode II: The Tete a Tete – FAQs
What happens in the Marriage a la Mode series by William Hogarth?
Hogarth’s six part morality painting series Marriage a la Mode tells the story of a mismatched society marriage from beginning to end. William Hogarth combined satirical skill, refined French style, and a secular point of view to create these popular artworks.
The first canvas depicts the contractual union of an arranged marriage. We see a narcissistic groom, a weeping bride, and a monetary agreement between their fathers.
In the second piece, Marriage a la Mode II: The Tete a Tete we find the couple cranky and distant, their home in disarray. They didn’t take to each other. Hogarth already hints at adultery.
The third painting gets much darker in tone. We see the husband visiting a doctor for syphilis along with a woman (not his wife) and child also suffering from the disease.
Chapter four shows an inheritance of power for the couple. Due to his father’s death, the husband is now an Earl and the wife a Countess. We also see more signs of adultery and estrangement between them.
The fifth piece raises the stakes. The wife’s lover has killed the Earl, who apparently caught them in the act.
In the sixth and final chapter, Hogarth concludes the tragedy. The wife’s lover has been executed for murdering her husband and she has taken poison and died.
Why was William Hogarth an important painter?
A writer, painter, and cartoonist, William Hogarth was an iconic artist that defined 18th century English art. He had a distinctive, bawdy style that’s recognized today as ‘Hogarthian” in satirical cartoons.
His paintings told rich and moralistic stories that often mocked the elite class of Britain. For instance, Hogarth believed that marriage worked best with a foundation of love and natural connection. He thus painted Marriage a la Mode, a series of six pieces skewering the arranged, loveless, marriages of the moneyed class.
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Marriage a la Mode II: Tete a Tete?
Check out LadyKflo’s essays about other National Gallery London paintings.
Cynthia Ellen Roman, ed., Hogarth’s Legacy (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2016)
Quennell, Peter. “Hogarth’s Election Series.” History Today (Apr 1953)
Elizabeth Einberg, William Hogarth: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings (New Haven and London, Yale University Press for Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2016)
See the whole series Marriage a la Mode at the National Gallery London online
Bomford, David and Roy, Ashok “Hogarth’s ‘Marriage à la Mode'” Technical Bulletin Volume 6, 1982 National Gallery
Elizabeth Einberg, Hogarth the Painter (London: Tate Gallery, 1997)
Bernd W. Krysmanski, Hogarth’s Hidden Parts: Satiric Allusion, Erotic Wit, Blasphemous Bawdiness and Dark Humour in Eighteenth-Century English Art (Hildesheim, Zurich, New York: Olms-Verlag, 201
The Other Hogarth, eds. Bernadette Fort and Angela Rosenthal, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001.