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Hogarth delayed the publication of A Rake’s Progress for several weeks to take advantage of a new law, known popularly as “Hogarth’s Act,” that gave engravers copyright on their images.
In the first scene, as mourning cloths are being hung for the father, the son, Tom Rakewell—the Rake—is spending his inheritance as fast as he can. He is paying off the mother of a young woman we will come to know as Sarah Young. Tom had written Sarah love letters (which the mother presents), given her a marriage ring, and had obviously impregnated her. His steward, taking inventory, also helps himself.
William George Sullivan; given to the John Herron Art Institute, now the Indianapolis Museum of Art, in 1930.