Marriage à-la-mode: 1. The Marriage Settlement


Neither the bride nor the groom looks too thrilled here.

The Marriage Settlement is the first painting in William Hogarth’s satirical painting series titled "Marriage a la Mode" (roughly meaning “marriage of the day or marriage in the current fashion"). The aim of these paintings was to poke fun at the British aristocracy who, after centuries of not having jobs and just kind of lying around spending vast amounts of money, increasingly sought to tap into the growing wealth of the new merchant class. They often achieved this through largely arranged marriages, where the groom’s family would get the money needed to fix up the crumbling old manor house, and the bride would get the social capital associated with an aristocratic title. That’s exactly what’s going on in this painting.

The young couple is seated in the left of the painting, and they’re not even looking at each other. Hogarth’s skill as a printmaker who traded in popular and humorous subjects is evident in his use of caricature in this work. The emotions and actions of the subjects are exaggerated to comic effect.The young lord, appropriately named “Viscount Squanderfield” is too preoccupied checking himself out in the mirror as he takes a pinch of snuff to even notice his sobbing bride to be. Meanwhile, Lord Squanderfield and the bride’s merchant father negotiate the dowry while an architect examines plans for a new mansion.

This painting is also rich with detail and symbolism. Dogs play a prominent role in "Marriage a la Mode" as a whole, and the two chained dogs seen by the unhappy couple are a portent of the loveless marriage to come. Viewers of the time could easily read these symbols commonly deployed in the moralistic or genre paintings to read the social criticism embedded in this work. This hot take on the maybe not so cool practices of the upper classes is exactly what Hogarth’s main fans, the merchant middle class with their growing buying power, were into, taking any chance to reduce the profile of the aristocracy.



  1. Farrell, Kaitlyn. "A Dog's World: The Significance of Canine Companions in Hogarth's "Marriage A-la-Mode"." The British Art Journal 14, no. 2 (2013): 35-38.
  2. Otterstein, Pola. "William Hogarth – Marriage à-la-mode." - Art History Stories. May 23, 2018.
  3. "Hogarth: Hogarth's Modern Moral Series, Marriage A-la Mode." Tate.
  4. "William Hogarth, Marriage A-la-Mode (including Tête à Tête)." Khan Academy.

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Marriage à-la-mode: 1. The Marriage Settlement

The Marriage Settlement is the first in the series of six satirical paintings known as Marriage à-la-mode painted by William Hogarth.


All the main characters are introduced here, at the beginning of the story. Starting with the man under the canopy and moving across the scene there is:

  • Earl/Lord Squanderfield
  • The man facing out the window, with his back to the scene, perhaps an architect.
  • The man standing at the table, perhaps the Earl's creditor
  • The Alderman — seated, facing the Earl
  • The lawyer Silvertongue — standing, next to the bride
  • The bride — seated, next to the Viscount
  • Viscount Squanderfield, the Earl's son — seated, on the far left

The only other character who is given a name is the doctor in plate III. Also, Silvertongue is not named until the final plate, VI; his name is given here for convenience.

Check out the full Wikipedia article about Marriage à-la-mode: 1. The Marriage Settlement.