William Hogarth’s Modern Moral Subjects: A Harlot’s Progress and A Rake’s Progress
In 1731 William Hogarth created a series of six paintings that tell the woeful tale of Moll Hackabout, whose seduction into a life of prostitution brings her ruin and untimely death. Encouraged by the popularity of these paintings Hogarth created engraved versions of each and published an edition of 1240 sets of the prints in 1732. These were immensely popular and were reprinted with modifications by Hogarth and later by other publishers after his death.
Because of the profusion of pirated versions of the Harlot’s Progress prints Hogarth successfully procured a 1735 Act of Parliament to ban that practice and waited until that ban was in effect before publishing his next suite of satirical prints, the eight images that comprise A Rake’s Progress.
Tom Rakewell, the anti-hero of this second tale, inherits and squanders a fortune and winds up a madman in Bedlam prison. This suite was also a huge success and encouraged Hogarth to later create similar narrative satirical sets such as Marriage à-la-Mode.
The prints on display here are from an 1822 edition of Hogarth’s works. The oil paintings of both A Harlot’s Progress and A Rake’s Progress were formerly in the collection of the father of William Beckford, the famously eccentric collector and author. The Harlot’s Progress paintings were destroyed in a fire in 1755. The Rake’s Progress paintings found their way into the collection of Sir John Soane and remain in the London museum that his home became.
William Hogarth - A Rake's Progress - Plate 4 - Arrested For Debt