The Tête à Tête

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William Hogarth, The Tête à Tête, 1743
By SARAH XU

William Hogarth’s amusing series of paintings, Marriage A-la-Mode, depicts the stages of a typical high society arranged marriage in the 18th century. The Tête à Tête is the second painting in the series, displaying life shortly after the couple gets married.

The house itself physically represents their unsustainable marriage with the overturned furniture and objects lying on the floor. The statue above the fireplace has a broken nose, while the cupid in the painting behind the statue is sitting in ruins.

The painting also holds various strategically placed objects, implying the failure of the marriage. While the wife looks quite content, the husband’s disgruntled facial expression indicates unhappiness in the decision to marry, while the dark spot on his neck also indicates a problematic future. The objects scattered around the husband hint at the inadequacy and incompetence of fulfilling the role of a husband, such as the unsheathed and broken sword lying at his feet.

Even marriage is the union of two people, this couple seems to be interested on continuing their old lifestyle. While one may assume that the woman may have benefitted the most from the marriage, the man went from poor to rich overnight. But, he probably just seems tired due to a night at the a brothel, as the lady's cap in his pocket indicates. But, the mirror in the woman’s hand could be used to signal to someone, possibly her lover, causing the woman’s sly, but gleeful expression.

Buying this humorous painting would be a great way to convince your parents that the downfalls of an arranged marriage, but also a generator of amusement.This brightly-colored painting would be a cheerful addition to your home.


Editor's Note: The authors were asked to write sales copy for Edme-François Gersaint, the prominent rococo art dealer who offered a printed catalog of available works.

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