The Tête à Tête, 1743


The painting shown is entitled The Tête à Tête. It was painted by William Hogarth in 1743. Hogarth was born in England in 1697. He was not just a painter but also a printmaker, a critic, and even a cartoonist. He helped pioneer the type of sequential art that later became our modern-day comic stips. His paintings typically depicted the middle classes, but this painting is a satirical work unveiling the life of the upper class.

The Tête à Tête is the second painting in a larger collection of work called The Marriage à-la-mode. The series is painted like a comic strip, with each scene continuing the storyline.  The first painting shows the young couple signing the marriage papers without even acknowledging each others existence. This painting shows them disheveled after a long night of parties. The rest go on to depict the young couple ignoring each other, becoming unfaithful, and eventually dying from their wicked transgressions.

These paintings attack the values of marriages of convenience. The ideas of wealth and the frivolousness of the upper class’ lifestyles. The overall themes are entrenched with morality.  The young wife is deliciously tired and happy from her late night, and stretches with a smile on her face. Her young husband on the other hand seems unhappy with his life, and is filled with ennui. There is no pleasure on his face, and he does not even care that his dog is about to dig into his pockets.

I chose The Tête à Tête because the couple depicted look hung over and the background made me think of the word nouveau riche.  The entire feeling of the painting leads me to believe that the couple do not have an independent thought between them.  William Hogarth emparts this information to the audience by the type of art that decorates their home. The room they are in are adorned with the “trendy” artwork of their day, but is still incredibly bland. They do not seem to mind that the bust on their mantle has a busted nose! They do not care about their appearance at that moment because no one of importance is near them (just their steward who seems very frustrated by the young couples activities)…

If you go on to look at the rest of the The Marriage à-la-mode series you will be able to see that this painting is a turning point. I like to think that the young man is deciding at this moment in the second painting to become unfaithful to his wife.