Press Releases

PRESS RELEASE : William Hogarth’s satirical painting ‘Taste in High Life’ at risk of leaving the UK [November 2023]

The press release issued by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport on 15 November 2023.

A temporary export bar has been placed on William Hogarth’s painting Taste in High Life.

  • The painting is valued at almost £2.5 million
  • Export bar will allow time for a UK gallery or institution to acquire the painting for the nation

Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay has placed an export bar on William Hogarth’s satirical painting ‘Taste in High Life’.

The work, valued at £2,468,000  (plus VAT of £93,600 which can be reclaimed by an eligible institution), is at risk of leaving the UK unless a domestic buyer can be found to acquire the work for the nation.

The 18th-century painting provides an important insight into public sentiment during the period, notably the ambivalence and tension that emerged with Britain’s growing commercial and consumer culture, as well as female patronage of the arts.

‘Taste in High Life’ holds an important position in Hogarth’s body of work, helping to elevate satire in the painted form to a high art. Hogarth became prominent in the 18th century for his satirical commentary on the upper classes, which would also feature in his celebrated series ‘Marriage A-la-Mode’.

The painting was commissioned by Mary Edwards (1705–43), an English heiress said to be the richest woman in England at the time. The painting is based on her own experience of high society and is therefore shaped by her personal disenchantment with fashionable life, particularly expressing her scathing attitude to contemporary tastes.

Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay said:

Hogarth’s Taste in High Life provides us with extraordinary insights into eighteenth-century society with his famously biting satirical edge.

As one of Britain’s most celebrated artists, it is right that a UK buyer has the opportunity to purchase this work so it can continue to be studied and enjoyed as an important part of our history.

The Minister’s decision follows the advice of the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest.

Committee Member Mark Hallett said:

William Hogarth’s Taste in High Life is a pivotal picture in the career of one of Britain’s greatest artists, prefiguring as it does the extraordinary achievement of his famous Marriage A-la-Mode series, now housed in London’s National Gallery. The picture is also the product of the unique, highly collaborative relationship Hogarth enjoyed with one of eighteenth-century Britain’s most important female patrons of the arts, Mary Edwards. Packed with the satirical details so closely associated with the artist, and at the same time expressive of the wider anxieties and prejudices of the Georgian age, it is a picture that fully deserves to stay in the UK and to receive further investigation and research.

The Committee made its recommendation on the basis that the painting met the first and third Waverley criteria for its outstanding connection with our history and national life and its outstanding significance for the study of art history, the history of 18th-century British cultural life, and female patronage.

The decision on the export licence application for the painting will be deferred for a period ending on 14 March 2024 inclusive. At the end of the first deferral period owners will have a consideration period of 15 Business Days to consider any offer(s) to purchase the painting at the recommended price of £2,468,000 (plus VAT of £93,600 which can be reclaimed by an eligible institution). The second deferral period will commence following the signing of an Option Agreement and will last for six months.

Notes to editors:

  1. Lord Parkinson discussed the Waverley criteria in a speech.
  2. Organisations or individuals interested in purchasing the painting should contact the RCEWA on 02072680534 or
  3. Details of the painting are as follows: William Hogarth (1697-1764) Taste in High Life 1742. Oil on canvas, 63.5 x 76.1 cm. Inscribed ‘THE / MODE / 1742’ on the pedestal of Venus. The work is unglazed and appears to be in fair and sound condition.
  4. Provenance: Commissioned from the artist by Mary Edwards (1705-1743) for £60; her sale, Cock’s, London, 28-29 May 1746, lot 49 (as ‘Mr. Hogarth, Taste a-la-Mode’), 5 guineas; bought by Mr. Birch; with John Birch, surgeon of Essex Street, Strand, by 1782 until 1814 or later; the Revd. Robert Gwilt (1811-1889) by 1843; sold by his executors, Christie’s, London, 13 July 1889, lot 95, 215 guineas; bought by Davis for C. Fairfax Murray; Charles Fairfax Murray (1849-1919); Louis Huth (1821-1905), 28 Hertford Street, Mayfair and Possingworth Park, East Sussex; his sale (‘Catalogue of the Highly Important Collection of Fine Pictures and Drawings of Louis Huth, Esq. Deceased’), Christie’s, London, 20 May 1905, lot 104, 1,250 guineas; bought by Agnew, on behalf of Edward Cecil Guinness, 1st Earl of Iveagh; thence by descent; Old Master & 19th Century Paintings Evening Auction, Sotheby’s, London, 5 July 2023, lot.34.
  5. The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest is an independent body, serviced by Arts Council England (ACE), which advises the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on whether a cultural object, intended for export, is of national importance under specified criteria.
  6. Arts Council England is the national development agency for creativity and culture. Its strategic vision in Let’s Create is that, by 2030, England should be a country in which the  creativity of everyone is valued and given the chance to flourish and where everyone has access to a remarkable range of high-quality cultural experiences. ACE invests public money from the government and the National Lottery to support the sector and deliver the vision. Following the Covid-19 crisis, ACE developed a £160 million Emergency Response Package, with nearly 90 per cent coming from the National Lottery, for organisations and individuals needing support. It is also one of the bodies administering the government’s unprecedented Culture Recovery Fund.