William Hogarth (British, 16971764)
Oil on canvas; 50 1/2 x 40 1/2 in. (128.3 x 102.9 cm)
Marquand Fund, 1936 (36.111)
The inscription informs us that Hogarth's subject is the wedding, on June 9, 1729, of Stephen Beckingham, a lawyer. Beckingham's marriage to Mary Cox took place at St. Benet's, Paul's Warf, but the interior depicted, perhaps by a hand other than Hogarth's, instead resembles that of James Gibbs's new Church of Saint Martin-in-the-Fields, Trafalgar Square. The church was consecrated in 1726 and we are thus afforded an approximate view of a London church in the most up-to-date, early Georgian style.
Hogarth, a London native, had served an apprenticeship as an engraver, publishing his first independent print in 1724. As a painter and portraitist, he was largely self-taught, and in 1729 still relatively inexperienced. That year he eloped with Jane, daughter of the decorative painter Sir James Thornhill (1675/761734), whose influence can perhaps be felt in a most unexpected Baroque detail in this picture: the putti among the clouds supporting a cornucopia, symbol of abundance, over the heads of the young couple. Hogarth sets out the decorous, doll-like figures in a gentle arc, so that each face is visible, as the commission would have required. Despite his personal circumstances, and the ability to capture a likeness for which he was later celebrated, the solemn event depicted here did not give full play to his talents, at least not by comparison with the famous satirical subjects in which he would later specialize.