Art Term

Modern moral subject

The modern moral subject is a type of painting that was invented by English artist William Hogarth (1697–1764), which satirizes the manners and morals of the period in which he lived

William Hogarth, ‘A Scene from ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ VI’ 1731
William Hogarth
A Scene from ‘The Beggar’s Opera’ VI 1731

Hogarth’s modern moral paintings are typically created as a series. The first series, A Harlot’s Progress 1732, is six scenes showing a country vicar’s daughter arriving in London, being corrupted and eventually dying in misery. Unsurprisingly it was a smash hit. Other major series are A Rake’s Progress and Marriage à la Mode. The idea appears first in A Scene from The Beggar’s Opera.

Hogarth made engraved copies of the paintings which sold widely.

Selected artworks in the collection