- 2 April 2015
In the first of a series on the role new photography plays in furthering art history scholarship, Maisoon Rehani (Picture Researcher, Paul Mellon Centre) reflects on the valuable insights gained as a result of commissioning new photography of the Edwards Hamilton Family on a Terrace by William Hogarth for the forthcoming catalogue raisonné on the artist by Elizabeth Einberg (Special Projects scholar at the Paul Mellon Centre).
This painting of a family group shows Gerard Anne Edwards as a toddler, his mother Mary Edwards and father Lord Anne Edwards Hamilton (1709-48). As Elizabeth Einberg points out, the wealthy but eccentric heiress Mary Edwards was for many years, until her death in 1742, one of Hogarth’s most important patrons. She held strong views on education, religion, and society and the pictures she ordered or bought from Hogarth are full of significant details that reflect her concerns. One of the pictures she owned is this family group or conversation piece showing her between her son Gerard Anne (named, like his father, in honour of Queen Anne) and her aristocratic ‘husband’ Lord Anne Hamilton. It was painted around the time when the parents separated in 1734, with Mary Edwards denying the existence of any marriage in order to deprive her spendthrift spouse of all access to her fortune. Declaring herself a ‘singlewoman’, she nevertheless accepted Lord Anne’s paternity of their child, to whose education she would devote the rest of her life. The picture reflects this complex situation in many details that can now be properly examined with the help of new photography.
The picture is well-known but has never been reproduced showing its margins in full. As a result, as Elizabeth Einberg explains, it was barely evident that the child is not merely playing beside a water-spout but is actually dipping his toy in the waters of a ‘fountain of wisdom’ flowing out from beneath an obelisk balanced on a ball at each corner – an ancient symbol of true wisdom, a detail that becomes clear from new photography of the painting out-of-frame. Enlargement facilitated through new photography shows that the toy represents a soldier, suggesting that the boy is being cleansed of all ideas of following his father’s military career.
Elizabeth Einberg also recounts how the book Mary Edwards holds open was long known to be a quote from Addison’s Spectator No.580 on the need to fill the mind with an awareness of the Divine Being, but it is only with photographic enlargement that it has been possible to accurately check the spelling and full wording (which was meant to be read!). Detail enlargement following new photography has also enabled us to work out the nature of the pile of improving books on the table which include the poetry or sermons of Edward Young, the works of Swift, Pope’s translation of the Iliad, and the devotional writings of Damuel Bowens and Archbishop Tillotson, all of them encapsulating the kind of education to which the child would be exposed from now on.
An amusing detail thrown into prominence by adjusting the contrasts of the high-resolution image is the fact that the seemingly unremarkable dog in the dark bottom right hand corner is actually baring its teeth. As Elizabeth Einberg notes, this alerts one to the fact that while in most pictures dogs stand close by their masters looking up adoringly at them, this one is presumably growling at Lord Hamilton and guarding the garden staircase down which he will shortly exit out of Mary Edwards and his son’s life.
About the author
Picture Researcher at the Paul Mellon Centre