Francisco Goya and William Hogarth are both artists who were influential and impactful upon their own society and era. Both produced paintings that were rather controversial. Goya’s The Family of Charles IV and Hogarth’s Marriage à-la-mode. The Tête à Tête are paintings that thematically critique the power of the upper class, despite them coming from different time periods. They express this through their different types of styles and meanings within their paintings.
The Tête à Tête came from a series of six paintings, Marriage A La Mode. The series shows the ills that result from arranged marriages, a practice very widespread among the upper classes at the time. The satirical thrust of Marriage A-la-Mode is as much about patronage, aesthetics and taste as it is about marriage and morals. This series includes “Italian and Dutch Old Masters, French portraiture and furnishings, oriental decorative arts, an Italian castrato singer and a French dancing master, a turbaned black pageboy, a masquerade reference, a bagnio and an aristocratic toilette (Tate).”
It may seem ironic that the formal qualities and palette expressed in Hogarth’s Marriage A-la-Mode paintings correspond to, French contemporary art and Rococo design but this is all part of Hogarth’s satirical agenda. The secret of a successful marriage was one of the most debated topics amongst the 18th-century England. At the beginning of the 18th century, most marriages amongst the upper class families were essentially financial arrangements designed to produce powerful alliances and exchange or acquire land/property.
Although people in working-class and agricultural communities were more or less free to choose their own partners for life due to them having a more carefree life due to the little wealthiness they had. Within the same narrow economic group and geographical area, the overwhelming majority of marriages among aristocratic and wealthy families were arranged by parents with the bride and bridegroom having no consent to the marriage arrangement.“The idea of individualism, reason, and romantic sensibility began growing rapidly in the early part of the century leading to daughters wanting to choose their own husbands(Social and Family Life in the Late 17th & Early 18th Centuries).”
But this was impossible to happen due to the dowry placed upon their heads, so most frequently, being married to partners they barely knew often led to disastrous outcomes. Romanticism was a big deal during the time due to the popular Rococo movement that was occuring during the time. This movement “began in 1699 after the French King, Louis XIV, demanded more youthful art to be produced under his reign. It is also referred to as Late Baroque because it developed as Baroque artists moved away from symmetry to more fluid designs (ATI, 2011).”
Many artists, like Hogarth, focused on bright colors and ornamentation for their paintings to create beautiful works of art. Hogarth was born in London, the son of an unsuccessful schoolmaster and writer from Westmoreland. From his early years of apprenticeship “His sympathies rested with the middle classes and, specifically, with the critical, enlightened element—rational, tolerant, and humanitarian—that played such a prominent role in the cultural life of Hanoverian England (Benenson, 2018).” He later took up oil painting, starting with small portrait groups called conversation pieces. He went on to create a series of paintings satirising contemporary customs. Which eventually led to the making of Marriage A La Mode.
The main focus of this series, is the painting, Tête à Tête. The setting takes place in the West End of London in a Palladian-style house. “The Viscount returns exhausted from a night spent away from home, probably at a brothel: the dog sniffs a lady’s cap in his pocket(The National Gallery).”
The woman’s sly look and satisfied stretch signals that she also had an affair and, unlike her tired out husband, is for the moment enjoying the novelty of life. She appears to be signalling to someone out of view with a pocket mirror, which could’ve been her lover who had to exit quickly, hence the upturned chair. The marriage of the Viscount and the merchant’s daughter is quickly proving to be a disaster.
Charles IV of Spain and His Family was a portrait of the Spanish royal family which was made at the height of Goya’s career as a court painter. Queen Maria Luisa sent a letter to Manuel Godoy, the future countess of Chinchon, who Goya was painting during this time. Within her letter she stated, “The King says that as soon as Goya is done with your wife’s portrait he is to come here and do one of all of us together(Francisco Goya).” Toward the end of June he therefore repaired to the royal residence of Aranjuez to carry out ten portraits of family members. Back in his Madrid studio Goya assembled the heads as though they were pieces of a puzzle, respecting each one’s dynastic rank.
Unlike many of his earlier society and court portraits, which leaned more closely to the genre’s conventions of beauty, this painting explores a new direction for the artist in its unflattering realistic depictions of its sitters. He also within the painting, includes himself in the shadows, hiding behind the large canvas in the far left of the background. At the center of the painting, is the figure of Queen Maria Luisa, who is holding her son and daughter’s hand, Francisco and Maria Isabel. “King Charles stands to her left: widely thought to be an ineffectual leader, his off-center placement provides a clue about the power dynamic of the family as well as their foibles and failings. Indeed, the Queen was believed to hold the real power, along with Prime Minister Manuel Godoy, with whom she had an affair (her illegitimate children are at the far left of the canvas, one in blue, the other in orange)(Francisco Goya).”
Disguised of a glorifying portrait due to it being commissioned for royalty, Goya’s subversive critique of the corruption of Charles IV’s reign is emphasized by the subject of the painting hanging in the background, which portrays the Biblical story of the immoral “Lot and His Daughters.” “Charles’s enduring lack of leadership led him to entrust his affairs to a shadow government run by Godoy, and by 1792, Godoy was fully in charge (A&E Television Networks, 2014).”
The French Revolution broke out in 1789, and with it brought fear and censorship within Spain. After the execution of Louis XVI, the war with France began. When the French crossed the Pyrenees into Spain, Charles IV signed the Basel Peace Treaty with them and gave them half of the island of Santo Domingo in exchange for the territories they had taken. “England said Spain had betrayed them and attacked the Spanish fleet. When Spain tried to remain neutral in the conflicts between France and England, Napoleon demanded compensations for it, and the wars continued. Charles IV gave the throne to Ferdinand VII, whom Napoleon forced to give the crown to his brother Joseph, who then became Joseph I of Spain(Spanish Books, 2011).”
Goya’s relationship with royal workshops have been prevalent in most of his life, and he was influenced to capture humanity as its finest during his late 40’s. Romanticism at the time, was a big deal in the art world. So the nature of this painting is quite ironic, due to its grotesque details of the figures portrayed in the painting.The Romanticism movement challenged the rational ideals held during the Enlightenment while also conveying the imagination of the individual.
Despite Goya and Hogarth coming from different artistic movements and societies, they both portray similar ideas in their art which is exploiting the upper class for their true nature. Hogarth portrays this through form and style. Within his painting, there are very few objects portrayed in the foreground, but the room is overall empty. The focal ground of the painting is focused on the central figures seen in the middle ground. The scene is set in a lavishly decorated room with plenty of art pieces, a fancy carpet, gold-outlined architecture, and a chandelier.
The husband, Viscount Squanderfield is seen slouching in a chair on the right.He has his legs splayed out possibly signifying him being drunk. He has a dot on his neck that would have been recognizable to the people of the day as the mark of syphilis, people usually get through sexual relations. Then a dog (a sign of fidelity in the Renaissance) sniffs at a bonnet in his pocket, insinuating that he’s been intimate with another woman. This signifies the corruption between this marriage.The wife, Viscountess Squanderfield, sits on the left looking satisfied.
The top of her bodice is undone, notioning that she’s been intimate with another man. Her gaze directs towards the bottom left portion of the canvas. She sits with her legs apart, a position which isn’t very appropriate or lady like. The colors Hogarth uses are very dull, and not very bright for the Rococo period. This can signify the dullness of the marriage which is why the couple are both having affairs because they want to spark up their love life. While on the other hand, we have Goya who adjusts his technique to the demands of the painting’s enormous size. “He applies color with sweeping brushstrokes and repeated splashes, which suggests that the work was to be displayed in one of the great halls of the palace(Kilroe,2018)
Goya displays extraordinary skill in depicting skin tones, in the hair and its dressing, which range in hue from the yellow of Antonio Pascual’s hairpiece to the powdered gray hair of the prince of Austria to the king’s white wig. Each of their facial expressions are portrayed in a distasteful manner, some of the royal members seem disgusted or upset. Goya put in detail to the wrinkles expressed in the older people, giving light on their true appearance.
The only figures portrayed to be “beautiful” are the younger children. This might represent how the older people are more corrupt due to their status and exposure to power, which the children have yet to experience this yet. Both artists put an ugly light on the upper class, for Hogarth it was through the little symbolisms and actions of each character, while for Goya it was through the realistic portrayal of each of his characters he painted.