The Heir
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rzarlif's picture


William Hogarth was appalled at the consumerism of the new rich in 1700s London.

Luxury wigs, pansy morning gowns and slippers, and grotesque late night gambling, drinking, and frolicking. All of it paid from inheritances or credit cards. Stuff that for us is hard to imagine.

In a series of eight paintings, "A Rake’s Progress," Hogarth mecrilessly roasts a self-absorbed and wild spending Tom Rakewell. Each one is chock-full of failed characters. Hogarth cruel humor makes fun of and shames the new morally-challenged middle-class.

Young Hogarth spent a lot of time on the rowdy streets of 1700s London sketching its characters. Then he lived in a nasty debtors prison with his family for five long years. His father had opened a café for the new middle-class and the venture failed compeletly.

Hogarth therefore saw lots Rakewells first hand and he depicts them in such a grotesques and vivid way that every Tom, Mary and Arvid will get the message. Greed is bad, aspiring to be an aristo. is worse. 

The Heir is ground zero as a somewhat dimwitted Tom the Rake has just inherited a load of dough from his rich merchant father and, first things first, abandons his working class fiancé. She is in tears, holding a ring. He is getting outfitted for his new clothes. The fiancé's mom is mightily pissed off. 

Mini-dramas play out in the sorry old quarters Tom still occupies. At the table behind Tom, a shady character is pocketing some of the inheritance. A hunched over and worn out housekeeper is mid-chore. A scrawny cat discovers that the chest is full of silver rather than food. The whole thing doesn’t bode well.



A Rake’s Progress. Accessed 30 June 2014.

Christina Scull, The Soane Hogarths. Sir John Soane’s Museum, 2nd edition 2007.