A Rake's Progress

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A Rake's Progress
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William Hogarth

A Rake's Progress

London, William Hogarth 1735 (circa 1740)

Copper engravings


A rare set of early, mostly first state impressions.

Set of 8 plates £5800

Hogarth's most famous moral progress, depicting the rise and downfall of a young rake. Paulson 132-139.

1.The Young Heir Takes Possession. The young Tom Rakewell has evidently just inherited his miserly father’s fortune, and Tom is evidently going to squander the fortune as fast as his father accumulated it. Signs of the old man’s parsimony are everywhere. In the background, in tacking up the black mourning hangings, the workman has discovered a hoard of gold coins hidden in the wall; the old fashioned shabbiness of the room; the skinny cat looks for food but can only find the chest filled with plate and bags of gold; deeds, mortgages and leases are piled up around the desk; the picture above the empty grate shows a miser weighing his gold, and the cover of the Bible has been mutilated to provide a shoe sole. Young Rakewell has evidently embarked on his profligate career by being measured by a tailor for a new pair of breeches, meanwhile buying off his weeping, pregnant fiancée, who is spiritedly defended by her irate mother. However, behind his back his steward takes the opportunity to steal some of the gold from a purse on the table. Paulson 132 I/IV.

2. The Levee The scene is young Rakewell’s morning levee, and he receives his rapacious hangers on while wearing his nightcap and dressing gown. The landscape gardener holds a garden plan, his jockey kneels before him with a large trophy won by Rakewell’s horse aptly named Silly Tom, the French dancing master cavorts in the foreground to the music of the new harpsichord, and in the background are the fencing master, thieving steward and hired bully. Significantly, a long unpaid bill is draped over the back of the musician’s chair. In the background through the archway is a milliner, a tailor with a new coat over his arm and an old poet with a scroll. Pualson 133 III/V.

3. The Orgy A riotous scene in the notorious Rose Tavern, Drury Lane. Rakewell’s watch being stolen by one of the whores shows 3 o’clock, and Rakewell has evidently just been in a street brawl (shown by the broken watchman’s lantern and staff at his feet). Almost everything in the room is broken, overturned or spilled. The giant platter being carried through the door is intended as a stage for the (syphilitic) posture dancer undressing in the foreground and the pregnant ballad seller beside the door is hawking the indecent song called The Black Joke. Paulson 134 I/III.

4. The Arrest. The scene is St. James’s Street, Westminster, with the gatehouse and towers of St. James’s Palace visible in the background. Rakewell has wasted his entire inheritance and he is on his way (concealed in a sedan chair with drawn curtains) to Queen Caroline’s Birthday Levee to seek Royal patronage. From the lighning bolt striking the notorious gentlemen’s club White’s in the background, Rakewell has evidently gambled away his fortune at the tables. He has been arrested by his creditors before he can reach the shelter of the Palace, but fortunately the scene is witnessed by his horrified mistress, Sarah Young, discarded in Plate One. Sarah, who has become a respectable milliner (from the spilt sewing box at her waist), rescues him (in a reversal of Plate One) by handing over her purse over to the bailiffs. Paulson 135 I/III.

5. The Marriage. Rakewell has once more betrayed Sarah and sought relief from his financial difficulties by marrying an old, rich, one eyed widow. The church is the dilapidated Marylebone Old Church which was situated almost out in the country and therefore popular as a place of secret or hasty marriages. Rakewell’s eye has already slid sideways to the pretty young bridesmaid and in the background the churchwarden attempts to keep out Sarah Young with her baby and mother who try to interrupt the proceedings. Paulson 136 I/III.

6. The Gaming House. A gambling house in Covent Garden. The frenzied gamblers are so involved in their game that they fail to notice that a fire has broken out at the back of the room. In the foreground is the central, wigless figure of the Rake, who having now gambled away all his rich old wife’s fortune has knocked over his chair and fallen to his knees in despair, while the dog barks at him. In the background a scuffling group suggests that someone has been caught cheating. Paulson 137 II/III.

7. The Prison. Having lost all his money the ruined Rakewell is now confined to the Fleet Prison for debtors. His old, one eyed wife harangues him, and Sarah Young who has just arrived has fainted at the latest misfortune. Rakewell has evidently been trying to recoup his losses by writing a play, however, John Rich the manager of Covent Garden has returned it to him Sr I have read your Play & find it will not doe &c. Possible ways of getting out of his predicament make up the rest of the engraving. The wings above the fourposter, the telescope thrust through the window bars, the alchemist trying to make gold in the background and the paper inscribed New Scheme for paying ye Debts of ye Nation dropped by the man helping Sarah in the foreground. Paulson II/IV.

8.The Madhouse. The final scene of Hogarth’s great moral progress is the interior of Bethlehem Royal Hospital for the Insane (Bedlam). Rakewell’s excesses have finally driven him mad. His head had been shaved and an attendant fastens manacles on his legs, while the ubiquitous Sarah Young attempts to comfort him. They are surrounded by lunatics displaying various aspects of their maladies. In the background kneels a religious maniac and in the neighbouring cell is a man who believes he is a King. On the wall a distracted astronomer attempts to calculate longitude, a mad tailor flourishes his tape measure, while on the stairs is the Pope, a melancholic, and a crazily grinning musician. Two well dressed ladies giggle at the antics of the lunatics (Bedlam was one of the fashionable sights of London). Paulson 138 II/III.

Set of eight plates £5800