This wedding group is one of the artist's first essays in what was to become the fashionable genre of the conversation piece. Beckingham, a London lawyer, and his bride are flanked by members of their families. The marriage took place at St. Benet's but the setting is based on the church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in Trafalgar Square. Although Hogarth was sought after for his ability to capture a likeness, the solemn event depicted here seems to have had limited appeal to him by comparison with his famous satirical subjects.
As the contemporary inscription (see Additional Images, fig. 1) states, the painting shows the wedding of Stephen Beckingham on June 9, 1729. The groom, a barrister at Lincoln's Inn in London, married Mary Cox, daughter of a lawyer and businessman. The bride died prematurely in 1738 and Beckingham married Mary Catherine Corbett, eventually moving to Bourne Place, Kent, which came into his family through his second wife. Later a justice of the peace, he died at Bourne Place in 1756.
The marriage of Stephen Beckingham to Mary Cox took place at the parish church of St. Benet, Paul's Wharf, near St. Paul's Cathedral. The rector of St. Benet's was Thomas Cooke, who may have presided. The man at left must be the groom's father, while the man with the cane next to the officiant is the bride's father. As Elizabeth Einberg suggested, he may have commissioned the picture. Although the ceremony took place at St. Benet's, the interior shown here is a modified view of the apse of the new church of St. Martin in the Fields, consecrated in 1726 and located on what is now Trafalgar Square. Weddings were not public occasions in the eighteenth century, and there was little precedent for depicting them. The painting, among the earliest of Hogarth's conversation pieces, came to light at the Royal Academy exhibition of 1894.
The penetrating observation and the satirical strain that characterize Hogarth's work as a printmaker are visible in the fat face and heavy body of the clergyman with his academic hood and, to a lesser extent, in the impassive gentleman with both hands propped on his walking stick and the attendant depicted in profile. Elizabeth Einberg (1987) had suggested that the church interior may have been painted by someone practiced in painting architecture, such as an assistant in the studio of Hogarth's father in law, Sir James Thornhill. However, while some of the portraits are more fully worked up than the background, they are smoothly integrated technically, and there is no indication in the X-radiograph (see Additional Images, fig. 2) of a difference in handling. In the foreground, at the lower left, Hogarth introduced and then scraped out a figure arranging hassocks. He also painted out a second red velvet cushion on the top step and added an elaborate Turkey carpet at the front and to the right. Despite the changes, the painting is well preserved and almost entirely free of restoration.
[Katharine Baetjer 2017]
 Einberg 2016, p. 49, has identified the three ladies as the groom's unmarried sisters, Sarah, Anne, and Susanna.
Inscription: Signed, dated, and inscribed: (lower left) Nuptiæ:S:tBeckingham:Arr / June:9:th 1729: W:m:Hogarth:pinxt:; (on minister's book) of Matrimony
the sitter, Stephen Beckingham, London and Bourne Place, Bishopsbourne, Kent (until d. 1756); his son, Stephen Beckingham, Bourne Place, London, and Ivy House, Hampton Court (1756–d. 1813; inv., n.d. [before 1768], as "My Father's Wedding—Hogarth Pinxit"); his daughter, the Hon. Dorothy Charlotte Montagu (1813–d. 1821); Elizabeth Catherine (Beckingham) Gregory (1821–d. 1833); by descent to Herbert William Deedes, Sandling Park and Saltwood Castle, near Hythe, Kent (1891–at least 1916; sold to Carstairs); [James Carstairs, London, by 1930–36; sold for $6,000 to Knoedler]; [Knoedler, New York, 1936; sold to MMA]
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," 1894, no. 98 (as "Wedding of Mr. Beckingham and Miss Corbett," lent by Mrs. Deedes).
London. Whitechapel Art Gallery. "Georgian England," March 29–May 9, 1906, no. 129 (in Upper Gallery, as "The Marriage of Stephen Beckingham to his first wife, Mary Cox of Kidderminster," lent by William Deedes).
London. 25 Park Lane. "18th Century English Conversation Pieces," March 1930, no. 113 (lent by James Carstairs).
New York. M. Knoedler & Co. "W Hogarth and His Tradition," November 11–23, 1935, no. 5 (lent by James Carstairs).
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Masterpieces of English Painting: Hogarth, Constable, Turner," January 24–March 16, 1947, unnum. suppl.
Detroit Institute of Arts. "English Conversation Pieces of the Eighteenth Century," January 27–February 29, 1948, no. 14.
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 38.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 38.
London. Tate Gallery. "Manners & Morals: Hogarth and British Painting 1700–1760," October 15, 1987–January 3, 1988, no. 53.
Venice. Fondazione Giorgio Cini. "William Hogarth: Dipinti, disegni, incisioni," August 26–November 12, 1989, no. 125.
Salem, Mass. Peabody Essex Museum. "Wedded Bliss: The Marriage of Art and Ceremony," April 26–September 14, 2008, unnumbered cat. (colorpl. 13).
"Royal Academy.—Winter Exhibition. (First Notice.—English Pictures.)." Athenæum no. 3454 (January 6, 1894), pp. 21–22, notes that the picture had not been previously displayed or engraved; considers the design "decidedly Hogarthian," but the execution "slight" and proposes that "the artist never saw the church he depicted".
Old Masters. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, Winter 1894, p. 24, no. 98, identifies it as the "Wedding of Mr. Beckingham and [in error] Miss Corbett," his second wife, which took place in the Bishopsbourne Church in October 1739.
Austin Dobson. William Hogarth. London, 1902, p. 168, identifies the bride as Mary Cox, observing that the wedding, in January 1729, was at St. Benet's, Paul's Wharf.
Masters in Art: Hogarth 3 (1902), p. 39, lists the painting as from the collection of Mrs. Herbert Deedes.
Georgian England. Exh. cat., Whitechapel Art Gallery. [London], 1906, p. 92, no. 129, calls the bride Mary Cox of Kidderminster, the groom's first wife.
Austin Dobson. William Hogarth. New York, 1907, p. 197.
André Blum. Hogarth. Paris, 1922, p. 9, pl. II, notes that this is among Hogarth's earliest works.
B. C. K[replin]. inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 17, Leipzig, 1924, p. 304, as in the collection of William Deedes.
Frank E. Washburn Freund. "William Hogarth and the English School." International Studio 85 (October 1926), pp. 45–47, ill., is of the opinion that the arrangement and grouping show the theater's influence; considers the figures "a little timid," but views only Gainsborough as his equal among the later English school regarding nuance and color.
G[eorge]. C. Williamson. English Conversation Pictures of the Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth Centuries. London, 1931, p. 8, pl. XIV, insists that the church is St. Martin-in-the-Fields, "though either the east end has been altered" or the artist has taken liberties with the architecture; attributes the rendering of the background to "Hogarth's full talent for painting architectural detail".
G[eorge]. C. Williamson. Intimate Paintings of the Georgian Period. American ed. New York, 1931, p. 8, pl. XIV.
Janet Rosenwald. "Knoedler Exhibits Hogarth Paintings In Interesting Show." Art News 34 (November 16, 1935), p. 4, calls the men on either side of the couple and the lady in blue their parents; notes a "swiftness of line," seen in the two balcony figures, that is characteristic of Hogarth's engravings.
Art News 34 (October 26, 1935), ill. on front cover.
R. "Rundschau—Amerika—New York." Pantheon 16 (December 1935), pp. 415, 420, ill.
Sacheverell Sitwell. Conversation Pieces: A Survey of English Domestic Portraits and their Painters. London, 1936, pp. 14–15, 91, no. 12, ill., calls the groom Stephen Beckingham of Lincoln's Inn and the rector "Tho. Cooke," in accordance with the St. Benet's Parish Register; suggests that the man who leans on a walking stick may be Mr. Cox; notes that St. Benet's, Paul's Wharf was the location of the ceremony but accepts Williamson's identification of the church interior depicted as St. Martin-in-the-Fields; observes that the clothes, church, tombs, and wall tablets are contemporary.
Hermann W. Williams Jr. "A Conversation Piece by Hogarth." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 32 (February 1937), pp. 30–33, ill. on front cover, classifies the painting as a conversation piece and one of Hogarth's first group portraits; suggests that the interior is a modified view of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, but that the statue of St. Maurus alludes to St. Benet's; identifies the groom's father, Ralph Beckingham, on his left, the bride's father, Joseph Cox, on her right; foresees Hogarth's "satiric vein" in the figure of the clergyman, probably Thomas Cooke; considers the picture surely painted and admires the handling of the balcony figures; views the artist as already a master of nuance and color.
James W. Lane. "Notes from New York." Apollo 25 (May 1937), pp. 280–81, ill.
Christopher Hussey. "Bourne Park, Kent—II." Country Life 96 (November 17, 1944), p. 860, fig. 2.
Andrew C. Ritchie. "Brilliant British Rebel: William Hogarth." American Collector 16 (January 1947), pp. 13, 16, 18, fig. 4, suggests the influence of Dutch seventeenth-century painting, comparing Hogarth's "monotonous horizontal line-up of heads" to Terborch's group portraits.
Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 2, p. 746, no. 2093, ill. (cropped).
R. B. Beckett. Hogarth. London, 1949, pp. 8, 24, 39, pl. 14, notes that while the date on the work is that of the wedding, the picture may have been completed the following year.
Frederick Antal. Hogarth and His Place in European Art. London, 1962, pp. 42–43, 90, 227 n. 48, pl. 27a, calls the depiction of a middle-class wedding scene with figures of actual people probably Hogarth's innovation; suggests that the closest continental comparisons are to Bernard Picart's engravings in J. F. Bernard's "Cérémonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde," though Picart's figures are not real-life portraits and are in a more traditional vein.
Gabriele Mandel. L'opera completa di Hogarth pittore. Milan, 1967, p. 89, no. 13, ill. and colorpl. V.
William Hogarth: A Loan Exhibition of Paintings, Drawings and Prints. Exh. cat., Virginia Museum. [Richmond], 1967, p. 17, no. 5.
Edith A. Standen inMasterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. New York, , p. 94, ill. (color).
Ronald Paulson. Hogarth: His Life, Art, and Times. New Haven, 1971, vol. 1, pp. 185, 224–26, pl. 84, finds no sense of a relationship between the married couple nor any psychological interest relating to the ceremony; discusses the limitations of conversation pictures.
"Collectors' Questions." Country Life 153 (February 22, 1973), p. 445.
100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum [in Russian]. Exh. cat., State Hermitage Museum, Leningrad. Moscow, 1975, pp. 111–13, ill. (color, overall and detail).
Joseph Burke. English Art 1714–1800. Oxford, 1976, p. 162.
Gianna Contini. I geni dell'arte Hogarth. Milan, 1976, p. 34, fig. 1 (color), suggests the work demonstrates an immaturity in the placement and gestures of the figures.
Jack Lindsay. Hogarth: His Art and His World. New York, 1979, p. 54.
Mary Webster. Hogarth. London, 1979, pp. 16–17, 32, ill. p. 33 (color), dates the picture about 1730.
David Bindman. Hogarth. New York, 1981, p. 36, fig. 19.
David Bindman. "Manners and Morals at the Tate." Burlington Magazine 129 (December 1987), pp. 819–20, fig. 37.
Elizabeth Einberg. Manners & Morals: Hogarth and British Painting 1700–1760. Exh. cat., Tate Gallery. London, 1987, pp. 73, 75, colorpl. 53, suggests that the man in black at the left may be the bride's father, Joseph Cox, attorney-at-law at Kidderminster, widowed in 1727, and that the lady in blue, standing apart, might represent her mother, thus explaining the carefully painted funerary tablet behind her; proposes that the neatly painted architecture is by an assistant; points out that the putti are an afterthought, that the left foreground originally showed a kneeling figure arranging the hassocks, which for some reason was painted out, and that the carpet may be a later attempt by the artist to introduce some interest into the foreground.
Mary Webster. William Hogarth: Dipinti, disegni, incisioni. Exh. cat.Vicenza, 1989, p. 73, no. 125, colorpl. I, fig. 125, calls the man behind the minister a lay secretary of the parish, the man in brown the bride's father, the man in dark green the groom's father, and the lady in blue to the far left the groom's mother; suggests that the elongated figures are Mannerist in derivation; proposes that the baroque putti are by an assistant.
Ronald Paulson. Hogarth: The 'Modern Moral Subject' 1697–1732. Vol. 1, New Brunswick, N.J., 1991, pp. 224–26, 370 n. 20, fig. 91, assumes the introduction of the putti was dictated by the commission; notes the contrast between them and the gallery urchins; mentions the recent discovery of a figure painted out of the left foreground; notes the strangeness of the wedding party and suggests that a thin line separates the painting from parody.
Neil McWilliam. Hogarth. London, 1993, pp. 48–49, ill. (color), calls it an early example of Hogarth's oils and suggests he had assistance with the architectural details; mentions the painted-out figure and proposes that the carpet was added later.
Sheila O'Connell inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 14, New York, 1996, p. 637.
Jenny Uglow. Hogarth: A Life and a World. London, 1997, pp. 161–63, fig. 42, mentions the liberties taken by Hogarth depicting the new St. Martin-in-the-Fields rather than the actual venue and the presence of the mother of the bride who had died in 1727; comments on the liveliness of the urchins compared to the stiffness of the wedding party; notes the artist's reworking of the clerk, carpet, and putti, perhaps for the benefit of the patrons' tastes.
Robin Simon. Hogarth, France and British Art: The Rise of the Arts in 18th-Century Britain. [London], 2007, pp. 223, 294 n. 4, pl. 211, dates it about 1729–30; calls the interior imaginary, but notes that it is often identified as St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
Paula Bradstreet Richter inWedded Bliss: The Marriage of Art and Ceremony. Exh. cat., Peabody Essex Museum. Salem, Mass., 2008, pp. 51, 177, colorpl. 13 (detail).
Katharine Baetjer. British Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1575–1875. New York, 2009, pp. 43–46, no. 19, ill. (color), figs. 36 (detail), 38 (detail of x-radiograph).
Elizabeth Einberg. William Hogarth: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings. New Haven, 2016, pp. 47–49, 88, no. 17, ill. (color, overall and details), provides additional biographical information and draws attention to the uniqueness of the picture.