Portrait of a Family

Portrait of a Family

ca. 1735
William Hogarth
1697–1764
Oil on canvas
Support (PTG): 21 x 29 1/2 inches (53.3 x 74.9 cm)
     At the far left of this family portrait a small figure with brown hands and dressed in green and red livery holds out a silver tray, on which rests an overturned teacup. Several features of the painting—including its unusual dimensions, compressed composition, and the condition of the canvas—suggest that it was cut down sometime after Hogarth completed it. In its original state, the figure at left was almost certainly wholly visible and probably represented a young African servant. 
    Portrait of a Family is characteristic of Hogarth’s innovative approach to the conversation piece. Rather than arrange his sitters in formal, static poses, Hogarth frequently showed them engaged in an action or event—in this case, the disruption caused by the kitten’s toppling of the yarn basket from the tapestry table. The scene is set within an opulent sitting room filled with expensive goods and furnishings, many of them imported to England through its expanding Asian and Atlantic trade networks or made from imported raw materials, including a silver chandelier and porcelain tea service, and a Chinese vase and lacquer ware cabinet. The now partially cropped servant provides yet another sign of the family’s worldly wealth.
B1977.14.58
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection