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’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