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A Rake's Progress is a series of eight paintings by 18th century Englishmarker artist William Hogarth. The canvases were produced in 1732–33 then engraved and published in print form in 1735. The series shows the decline and fall of Tom Rakewell, the spendthrift son and heir of a rich merchant, who comes to Londonmarker, wastes all his money on luxurious living, prostitution and gambling, and as a consequence is imprisoned in the Fleet Prisonmarker and ultimately Bedlammarker. The original paintings are currently in the collection of the Soane Museummarker in London.


In the first painting, Tom has come into his fortune on the death of his miserly father. While the servants mourn, he is being measured for new clothes. He is also rejecting the hand of his pregnant fiancée, Sarah Young, whom he had promised to marry (she is holding his ring and her mother is holding his love letters). He will pay her off, but it is clear that she still loves him.
In the second painting, Tom is at his morning levée in Londonmarker, attended by musicians and other hangers-on all dressed in expensive costumes. Surrounding Tom from left to right: a music master at a harpsichord; a fencing master; a quarterstaff instructor; a dancing master with a violin; an landscape architect; an ex-soldier offering to be a bodyguard; a bugler of a fox hunt club. At lower right is a jockey with a silver trophy. The instructor looks disapprovingly on both the fencing and dancing masters. Both masters appear to be in the "French" style, which was a subject Hogarth loathed.
The third painting depicts a wild party or orgy under way at a brothel. The whores are stealing the drunken Tom's watch. On the floor is a night watchman's staff and lantern.
In the fourth, he narrowly escapes arrest for debt by Welsh bailiffs as he travels in a sedan chair to a party at St. James's Palacemarker to celebrate Queen Caroline's birthday on Saint David's Day (Saint David is the patron saint of Wales). On this occasion he is saved by the intervention of Sarah Young, the girl he had earlier rejected; she is apparently a dealer in millinery. In comic relief, a man filling a street lantern spills the oil on Tom's head. This is a sly reference to how blessings on a person were accompanied by oil poured on the head. In this case the "blessing" being the "saving" of Tom by Sarah, although Rakewell, being a rake, will not take the moral lesson to heart. In the engraved version, lighting flashes in the sky and a young pickpocket has just emptied Tom's pocket. The painting, however, shows the young thief stealing Tom's cane and has no lightning.
In the fifth, Tom attempts to salvage his fortune by marrying a rich but aged and ugly old maid at St Marylebonemarker. In the background Sarah arrives holding their child while her indignant mother struggles with a guest.
The sixth painting shows Tom pleading for the assistance of the Almighty in a gambling den after losing his "new fortune." Neither he nor the other obsessive gamblers seem to have noticed a fire breaking out behind them.
All is lost by the seventh painting, and Tom is incarcerated in the notorious Fleetmarker debtor's prison. He ignores the distress of both his angry new "old" wife and faithful Sarah, who cannot help him this time. Both the beer-boy and the jailer demand money from him. Tom begins to go mad, as indicated by both a telescope for celestial observation poking out of the barred window and an alchemy experiment in the background.
Finally insane and violent, in the eighth painting he ends his days in Bethlehem Hospitalmarker (Bedlam), London's celebrated mental asylum. Only Sarah Young is there to comfort him, but Rakewell continues to ignore her. While some of the details in these pictures may appear disturbing to modern eyes, they were commonplace in Hogarth's day. For example, the fashionably dressed women in this last painting have come to the asylum as a social occasion, to be entertained by the bizarre antics of the inmates.

Later editions

Igor Stravinsky's 1951 opera The Rake's Progress, with a libretto by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, is loosely based on the story from Hogarth's paintings. In 1961, David Hockney created his own print edition version of The Rake's Progress and has also created stage designs for the Stravinsky Opera.

The RKO film Bedlam, produced by Val Lewton and directed by Mark Robson, was inspired by A Rake's Progress. Hogarth received a writing credit for the film.

The UK fund manager Bedlam Asset Management used the series throughout its 2006 Annual Report and Accounts.

The singer Steve Hogarth of the band Marillion co-wrote a song `The Rake's Progress' as an interlude on the Holidays in Eden album, released in 1991. "I called the section (between 'This Town' and '100 Nights') 'The Rakes Progress' in reference to the famous series of lithographs by my namesake, William Hogarth... Seems pretentious but it was a joke I couldn't resist."

The University of New Hampshire's Department of Theatre and Dance."[ created an intensely collaborative stage show titled "The Rake's Progress" in 2003, which was directed by David Kaye. This show took 17 actors and actresses, provided an intensive study of the etchings. They then wrote and performed a modern avant-garde production based on the interpretation of Hogarth's work.

The paintings

Image:William_Hogarth_021.jpg|1 — The HeirImage:William_Hogarth_022.jpg|2 — The LevéeImage:William_Hogarth_027.jpg|3 — The OrgyImage:William_Hogarth_026.jpg|4 — The ArrestImage:William_Hogarth_023.jpg|5 — The MarriageImage:William_Hogarth_024.jpg|6 — The Gaming HouseImage:William_Hogarth_018.jpg|7 — The PrisonImage:William_Hogarth_019.jpg|8 — The Madhouse

The engravings

Image:William Hogarth - A Rake's Progress - Plate 1 - The Young Heir Takes Possession Of The Miser's Effects.jpg|Plate 1 — The Young Heir Takes Possession Of The Miser's EffectsImage:William Hogarth - A Rake's Progress - Plate 2 - Surrounded By Artists And Professors.jpg|Plate 2 — Surrounded By Artists And ProfessorsImage:William Hogarth - A Rake's Progress - Plate 3 - The Tavern Scene.jpg|Plate 3 — The Tavern SceneImage:William Hogarth - A Rake's Progress - Plate 4 - Arrested For Debt.jpg|Plate 4 — Arrested For DebtImage:William Hogarth - A Rake's Progress - Plate 5 - Married To An Old Maid.jpg|Plate 5 — Married To An Old MaidImage:William Hogarth - A Rake's Progress - Plate 6 - Scene In A Gaming House.jpg|Plate 6 — Scene In A Gaming HouseImage:William Hogarth - A Rake's Progress - Plate 7 - The Prison Scene.jpg|Plate 7 — The Prison SceneImage:William Hogarth - A Rake's Progress - Plate 8 - In The Madhouse.jpg|Plate 8 — In The Madhouse

See also


  1. Bindman, David. Hogarth, Thames and Hudson, 1981. ISBN 050020182X
  2. Annotated lyrics (Marillion)
  3. [1]
  4. Ireland, John. Hogarth Illustrated, George Routledge and Sons, 1884. London

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