William Hogarth (1697-1764), Before (left) and After (right), 1736. Etching and engraving, 2nd state (Paulson 141 and 142). Graphic Arts Hogarth collection
Hogarth painted two versions of these scenes, one depicting the lovers indoors and one outdoors. The first was commissioned by John Thomson, who fled to France before the paintings were finished, after being charged with fraud and theft in the 1731 Charitable Corporation scandal.
The man in the scene has been identified as Sir John Willes, Walpole Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas and a notorious womanizer. Hogarth fills the prints with sexual innuendo, such as the framed cupid preparing to shoot his rocket before and smiling contentedly as the rocket returns to earth after.
Although she hesitates, the woman is not completely virtuous. On her vanity is a book of erotic poems by John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester (1647-1680) and in the drawer is another volume labeled simply “novels.” After sex, the man dresses quickly while the woman entices him to stay. On the floor, a book is open to a quotation from Aristotle: “Omne Animal Post Coitum Triste” (Every animal is sad after intercourse).
The diptych sold well throughout Hogarth lifetime but after his death both Mrs. Hogarth and John Boydell suppressed it from some bound editions of his complete works. In later editions, they were often placed inside folders at the back of the volume.