Marriage a la Mode (3): The Visit to the Quack Doctor

Hogarth, William

Primary Category: Visual Arts / Painting/Drawing

Genre: Oil on canvas

Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey
  • Date of entry: Feb-04-2000
  • Last revised: Dec-14-2009


Marriage à la Mode is a set of six paintings which were subsequently made into engravings. The series depicts the dissolution of a marriage conceived of greed and vanity. This fictional, arranged marriage between a Viscount and a rich merchant’s daughter is doomed to end in tragedy. "The Visit to the Quack Doctor" (also called "The Inspection") is the third in the series.

By this point, the husband has contracted a venereal disease and he and his diminutive mistress are visiting a quack doctor and female accomplice. This bold, angry assistant commands the center of the picture--she bears the tattoo of a criminal on her breast, holds a jackknife and is clothed in a wide black dress with a red and gold fringed apron. The toothless, bowlegged, leering doctor is colored in browns like the background of the picture.

The Viscount is seated, has a plaster on his neck, and extends a box with three black pills towards the doctor. His grinning expression is one of foolish pleasure. The mistress, who barely reaches the height of the seated Viscount, is the only sad figure and object of pity. Surrounding these figures are numerous icons of death, such as skulls, skeletons, anatomical dissections, and a torture machine complete with French instruction book.


This series, considered one of Hogarth’s masterpieces, is a condemnation of debauchery, adultery, and greed. Hogarth’s scathing treatment of charlatans and medical practice can also be seen in his other works, such as "The Consultation of Physicians or Undertaker’s Arms" and the famous series A Rake’s Progress, which ends with a scene of Bedlam, the insane asylum. This painting/etching is of interest not only for its depiction of quackery, but also for the iconography of death which fills this interior scene.


Painted 1743, engraved 1745. The engraving (mirror image of painting) is on-line at the National Library of Medicine.

Primary Source

National Gallery, London