Page 1

PLATE I

PLATE II

PLATE III

A HARLOT’S PROGRESS SERIES PLATE IV

PLATE V

PLATE VI

The first of Hogarth’s “modern moral subjects” series, A Harlot’s Progress (1732) was created at the same time authorities were cracking down on prostitution in London’s Covent Garden brothels. The series references actual figures contemporary with whom contemporary audiences would have been familiar. The effort was covered daily in London newspapers. Hogarth’s series plays with popular understandings of prostitutes as morally corrupt seductresses spreading venereal diseases as well as more empathetic portrayals of prostitutes as naïve country girls brutalized by city life and exploitative professions. The series follows the story of Moll Hackabout, a vulnerable girl who traveled London to earn a living only to be sucked into prostitution as her desire for wealth grew.

Click each plate’s detail above to learn more, or swipe up to start reading about all six.


PLATE I

Moll Hackabout arrives in London from the countryside seeking employment as a seamstress or domestic servant. Her fate as a prostitute is signaled by the presence of real life brothel keeper Mother Needham and the infamous Colonel Francis Charteris known to the public as “The Rape-Master General of Britain.” Mother Needham surveys Moll’s youth and beauty while Charteris fondles himself in the doorway to Bell Inn.

William Hogarth (English, 1697–1764), Plate I, A Harlot’s Progress, 1732, (Moll Hackabout Arrives in London at the Bell Inn, Cheapside), etching and engraving, Anonymous Donor’s Purchase Fund, LSUMOA 62.8.19


PLATE II

Situated in a comfortable apartment, Moll is caught with an aristocratic lover by the wealthy Jewish businessman (his religion suggested by old testament scenes in the paintings in the background) who keeps Moll as his mistress and provides her housing. The precariousness of Moll’s position as a “kept woman” is suggested by the table she is kicking over in an attempt to divert attention from her fleeing lover and her keeper’s look of shock. She dismissively clicks her fingers to call her young West Indian servant. Owning a young servant of color was another form of vanity during the period like her ostentations dress and room décor.

William Hogarth (English, 1697–1764), Plate II, A Harlot’s Progress, 1732, (Moll is Now a Kept Woman, the Mistress of a Wealthy Merchant), etching and engraving, Anonymous Donor’s Purchase Fund, LSUMOA 62.8.19


PLATE III

Moll has now become a lowly prostitute in Covent Garden. A bed is her only furniture and she is attended by a cat who mimics the pose of her profession and an old maid whose black spot serves as a telltale sign of syphilis. Justice John Gonson, a well-known legal and moralizing figure connected to London’s prostitution clean-up efforts, is entering her door.

William Hogarth (English, 1697–1764), Plate III, A Harlot’s Progress, 1732, (Moll Has Gone From Kept Woman to Common Prostitute), etching and engraving, Anonymous Donor’s Purchase Fund, LSUMOA 62.8.21


PLATE IV

Sentenced to Bridewell Prison, Moll beats hemp for nooses alongside the other prostitutes and petty criminals at Bridewell. Two prostitutes marked with the black spot of syphilis look on as another woman mockingly touches Moll’s fine clothes while winking to the viewer. In the background a prisoner who has refused work stands in the stocks which read “Better to work than stand thus.” Other prisoners recede into the background in order of their status. The last character visible is a pregnant woman of color, who may have escaped death due to her pregnancy.

William Hogarth (English, 1697–1764), Plate IV, A Harlot’s Progress, 1732, (Moll Beats Hemp in Bridewell Prison), etching and engraving, Anonymous Donor’s Purchase Fund, LSUMOA 62.8.22


PLATE V

Moll is dying. Her limp body is wrapped in sweating blankets used to treat venereal disease. The quack doctors “treating” her fight as they steal Moll’s possessions. Moll’s son, the innocent victim of this circumstance, sits by the fire. Hogarth leaves his fate an open question.

William Hogarth (English, 1697–1764), Plate V, A Harlot’s Progress, 1732, (Moll Dying of Syphilis), etching and engraving, Anonymous Donor’s Purchase Fund, LSUMOA 62.8.23


PLATE VI

Moll has died at the age of 23 according to her coffin. The prostitutes attending her coffin are indifferent. A clergyman, staring distractedly into space suggestively spills his drink in his lap as his hands explore beneath the skirt of the young prostitute next to him. The fate of Moll’s son as he sits in the shadow of her coffin looks dark. Hogarth leaves us with the impression that sexual vice, corruption, and moral decay will continue unchecked.

William Hogarth (English, 1697–1764), Plate VI, A Harlot’s Progress, 1732, (Moll’s Wake), etching and engraving, Anonymous Donor’s Purchase Fund, LSUMOA 62.8.24

William Hogarth's "A Harlot's Progress" gallery guide  

LSU Museum of Art gallery guide published as a supplement to the exhibition, Collection Spotlight: William Hogarth.

William Hogarth's "A Harlot's Progress" gallery guide  

LSU Museum of Art gallery guide published as a supplement to the exhibition, Collection Spotlight: William Hogarth.

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