Catalogue entry

N05359 The Staymaker (? The Happy Marriage V: The Fitting of the Ball Gown) c. 1745

Oil on canvas 699×908 (27 1/2×35 3/4)
Purchased by the National Gallery with assistance from the National Art-Collections Fund 1942; transferred to the Tate Gallery 1949
PROVENANCE ...; Samuel Ireland by 1782, but not identifiable in his sale, Sotheby's 7–15 May 1801; ...; W.B. Tiffin of the Strand by 1833; ...; W.H. Forman of Pippbrook House, Dorking, before 1890, by descent to Major A.H. Browne of Callaly Castle, Northumberland, sold Sotheby's 27 June 1899 (81) bt C. Fairfax Murray; sold by him to Agnew 1908, from whom bt by Sir Edmund Davies 1908; bt from his executors by the National Gallery
EXHIBITED RA Winter 1908 (100); The Edmund Davies Collection, French Gallery 1915 (19); English Conversation Pieces, Wembley 1924 (Room V, no.22); Eighteenth Century Conversation Pieces, 25 Park Lane 1930 (121); RA 1934 (228, Memorial Catalogue No.66); La Peinture Anglaise, Louvre, Paris 1938 (69); One Hundred Years of British Painting, BC tour, Lisbon and Madrid 1949 (22); Tate Gallery 1951 (58); The French Taste in English Painting, Kenwood 1968 (32); Tate Gallery 1971 (127, repr.)
ENGRAVED Etching by Joseph Haynes 1782 (see no.113)
LITERATURE Nichols 1782, pp.39–42, 102, 324–5, 1785, pp.115, 410; J. Ireland 1798, pp.125–34; Nichols & Steevens, II, 1810, pp.267–8; Nichols 1833, p.364; W. Chaffers, Catalogue of the Works of Antiquity and Art ... removed in 1890 to Callaly Castle, 1892, pp.25, 206; Dobson 1902, p.187, 1907, pp.221, 267; Davies 1946, pp.74–5; F. Antal, ‘Hogarth and his Borrowings’, Art Bulletin, XXIX, 1947, p.43, pls.13, 14; Beckett 1949, p.74, pl.162; Antal 1962, pp.28, 113, 115–16, 121, 204, 240 n.56, pl.180; Baldini & Mandel 1967, p.150, pl.26(col.); Paulson 1971, II, pp.15, 18, pl.196; R. Paulson, ‘Hogarth the Painter: The Exhibition at the Tate’, Burlington Magazine, CXIV, 1972, p.76; Webster 1979, pp.115–18, 184, no.117, repr.p.123 and pp.124–5 (col. detail)

This is now generally thought to be one of the sketches for the abandoned ‘Happy Marriage’ series, which Hogarth planned to produce after the success of the ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’ engravings of 1745 (the paintings for these of c. 1743 are in the National Gallery). It was to be set in the country as opposed to the town, and was intended to contrast solid, old-fashioned virtues with the fashionable excesses of the earlier series. Hogarth's intended plot, if indeed he had worked one out, is not known and can only be deduced from a series of oil sketches, some of them now lost, that are related in size, treatment and subject matter.

This particular scene could show the young country squire's wife being fitted for the ball-gown she is to wear in the succeeding scene, ‘The Dance’ (no. 105). Antal (1962, pl.81a) has shown that the main group on the left was adapted from Cochin's genre engraving of 1737, ‘Le Tailleur pour Femme’. The group in the right background (very much Hogarth's own) shows the husband seated on a settee, wearing a voluminous dressing-gown, playing with his youngest child which is held up to him by a doting nurse who is kissing its bottom. The sketchy figure on the settee has sometimes been interpreted as being female, yet Nichols, writing in 1782, understood it to be male, a view shared by Antal. Certainly the lounging attitude is that of a man, the cut of the lapels, the long sleeves and wrist-ruffles suggest a man's dressing-gown, worn with a night-cap over a long night-shirt.

Infra-red photographs show a pair of sturdy male legs in the under-drawing beneath the ‘skirt’.

The eldest boy, equipped with cockade and toy sword, appears to be playing at soldiers, while the younger child seems to be pouring, with laudable if misplaced generosity, some milk for the cats into the staymaker's hat: infra-red photographs show the clear outline of a large cat in the bottom right-hand corner, in front of the kitten under the table. Both are intently watching a sketchy blob on the floor which, to judge from its colour, could be some object that had fallen out of the box in front of them. As has already been noted (Webster 1979, p.118) the line of baby clothes drying in front of the fire suggests that the scene is set in the nursery.

The composition is far from resolved and shows many alterations, most notably a cabriole-legged table underneath the main group on the left, and an over-painted figure, perhaps of another maidservant, in a doorway behind the settee.

Showing the young married couple in a state of unbuttoned domestic bliss, surrounded by their mischievous and wholesome brood, would make a logical counterpart to the ‘Levée of the Countess’ in scene IV of ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’, where the presence of a neglected and, as transpires later, sickly child is indicated only by the child's rattle hanging by its ribbon from the back of the countess's chair. The busy and modest domestics in this scene would contrast favourably with the fashionable idlers of the other, as would the adoration, here properly bestowed upon a baby, with that evinced for a foreign castrato in the former, and the fitting of a gown for a country dance, with the preparations for the disastrous masquarade in town. Perhaps most importantly, the suggested reading of the picture would give the ‘The Happy Marriage’ series a time-scale similar to that of the ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’, which surely would have been Hogarth's intention if he had a contrasting parallel narrative in mind.

Most of what is known of the ‘Happy Marriage’ series comes from accounts of Samuel Ireland's collection, but much of this is contradictory and dubious, and there are no indications until long after Hogarth's death of what precisely the series as a whole consisted. According to Nichols, Ireland owned two (unspecified) sketches for the ‘Happy Marriage’ in 1782, as well as ‘several other sketches in oil’. Presumably ‘The Staymaker’ was among the latter, as it was etched under this title that same year as being in Ireland's possession, without, however, any suggestion that it might belong to the ‘Marriage’ series. Writing in 1798, Samuel Ireland claimed to have purchased five of six oil sketches for the series from Mrs Hogarth ‘many years ago’, the sixth belonging to Mrs Garrick (‘The Wedding Banquet’, Royal Institution of Cornwall, Truro). He claims that he ‘unfortunately lost, or mislaid’ one of the five which represented the marriage procession in or to the church: this was cut up sometime before 1833, though fragments survive in the collection of the Marquess of Exeter (Beckett 1949, fig. 164). Ireland illustrates the remaining four, of which one is ‘The Dance’ (T03613). The other three, none of which have been since traced, are so lacking in incident or what could be described as Hogarthian invention, that one suspects that Ireland either worked up his own interpretations from nearly indecipherable sketches, or erred in his attributions in his eagerness to make up a set (Beckett 1949, figs. 163, 166, 167). This is also suggested by his inability to fit the scenes into any kind of coherent narrative, although most writers have since adopted the sequence set out by him, i.e. (I) Courtship, (II) The Marriage Procession, (III) The Wedding Banquet, (IV) Relieving the Indigent, (V) The Garden Party, (VI) The Wedding Dance. If one accepts ‘The Staymaker’ as part of the series, this would bring the number of sketches associated with ‘The Happy Marriage’ to seven (it should be remembered that the ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’ consists of six scenes), and it can be argued that the two Tate Gallery sketches could represent the last two scenes in the series as it is known at present.
It is not known why Hogarth abandoned the series. Traditionally it has been suggested either that Hogarth was incapable of painting cheerful subjects, or that a happy narrative would be too lacking in dramatic incident to make an interesting series. It is equally possible that Hogarth decided that the immense labour involved in painting another set for engraving was not worthwhile, or that the market for such a subject had been saturated by the publication in July 1745 of Highmore's set of engravings after Richardson's immensely popular sentimental novel Pamela (see N03573-N03576).

In his catalogue of the 1971 exhibition, Gowing suggests that this scene might be related to a lost decorative design for Vauxhall Gardens known only from its title ‘Difficult to Please’. He also points out that Hogarth took a well-made stay as a prime illustration of the ‘Line of Grace and Beauty’ for Plate 1 of his Analysis of Beauty (1753), as he did the weaving line of the country dance from what could be the succeeding scene to this in the ‘Happy Marriage’ series, ‘The Dance’.

Published in:
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988