Historical Portraits Picture Archive

The Kirby Hall conversation piece 1735c.

Gawen Hamilton 

The Kirby Hall conversation piece, Gawen Hamilton
Zoom
Oil on canvas
18th Century
25 x 30 inches 76.2 x 63.5 cm
 
Provenance:
Sir Harry Stephen Thompson, Kirby Hall, Yorks, 1866; By descent to his son Sir Henry Meysey Meysey-Thompson (1845 û 1929), later Lord Knaresborough; Thomas Agnew and Sons, London 1946; Paul Drey, New York 1942; Arthur Tooth and Son, London 1946; Sir Reginald Macdonald Buchanan, 1953; M. Knoedler and Co. Inc., New York, from whom purchased by Walter P. Chrysler Jnr., May 1976; Sold from the estate of Walter P. Chrysler Jnr., Sotheby''s New York June 1st 1989 (lot 27)
Literature:
Austin Dobson William Hogarth 1879 pp 187-188; 1893 p.351; 1902 p.187; 1907 p.221 Illustrated London News October 19th 1946 p.445; R.B. Beckett Portraits of Hogarth''s Family The Connoisseur September 1948 p33 The Chrysler Museum Bulletin ''English portraits on view'' vol5 no.9 September 1976 (as by William Hogarth of the Thornhill Family).
Exhibited:
Yorkshire Fine Arts and Industrial Exhibition 1866 no.454; Pittsburgh Pennsylvania 1938; Montreal Canada 1942; Arthur Tooth and Sons, London Recent Acquisitions October 22nd û November 16th 1946; no.11; The Chrysler Museum,
This fine conversation piece dates from the early 1730s, a period which saw Hamilton producing a number of group portraits which, at their best, can rival his contemporary William Hogarth. The identity of the family remains uncertain1, however the provenance of the portrait would suggest that the sitters are members of the Thompson family of Kirby Hall in Yorkshire. The sitters would appear to be a father (seated) who is being shown a drawing by a young man who may well be his son, perhaps recently returned from the Grand Tour, since the drawing’s apparent subject and blue paper would suggest that it is by an Italian old Master. The figure to the side of the seated gentleman may well have been the youth’s companion on his travels. The other figures would appear to be the man’s wife, his or her father and a late-born son.

Gawen Hamilton was born in Hamilton in the west of Scotland and settled in London in around 1726. His conversation pieces were greatly admired by George Vertue, who wrote on the artist’s death in 1737 that ''it was the opinion of many Artists… that he had some peculiar excellence where he outdid Mr Hogarth in colouring and easy graceful likeness.'' Amongst his important patrons were Thomas Wentworth 1st Earl of Strafford and Edward Harley 3rd Earl of Oxford. In 1734 he painted his famous Conversation of Virtuosis at the Kings Arms (National Portrait Gallery, London) which included many of the most celebrated artists of the time. The attribution of this portrait to Hamilton was first suggested by R. B. Beckett, who had initially included it as by Hogarth in the first edition of his 1947 monograph. The error is an excusable one, as in the feel for paint, the harmony and variety of colours throughout the composition and in the serpentine line formed by the heads of the figures as the painting is read from left to right it is plainly the equal of Hogarth.



1. Traditionally the sitters have been identified as Sir James Thornhill and his family with his uncle and patron Dr Sydenham. However, both the ages of the sitters and their known portraits make this unlikely.
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