- 14 May 2014
- 6:00 – 8:00 pm
- Seminar Room, Paul Mellon Centre
The conversation piece was a new mode of small group portraiture which emerged in England in the late 1720s and 1730s. It offered many advantages as a form of portrayal, and key amongst these was the potential for including substantial numbers of figures on a single canvas. Whilst this was exploited to represent many kinds of familial and non-familial relationships (often overlapping), a dominant theme was the extended kinship group. Titles such as 'The Cromwell and Thornhill Families' (Charles Philips, c.1730) or 'The du Cane and Boehm Families' (Gawen Hamilton, 1734-5) draw our attention to the fact that many constellations of sitters in conversation pieces are underpinned by affinal networks; by bilateral connections established on the marriage of members of two families. Kinship has been a notoriously difficult issue for historians to access, and I will argue that the conversation piece gives us an invaluable insight into the nature and significance of these extended relationships.
To book your place please contact the Centre's Co-ordinator Ella Fleming on: firstname.lastname@example.org
About the speaker
Kate Retford is Professor of Art History at Birkbeck, University of London. She has published widely on eighteenth-century British art, particularly on portraiture and the country house art collection. Her work includes The Art of Domestic Life: Family Portraiture in Eighteenth-century England (Yale University Press, 2006); Placing Faces: The Portrait and the English Country House in the Long Eighteenth Century, co-edited with Gill Perry et al. (Manchester University Press, 2013); and The Georgian London Town House: Building, Collecting and Display, co-edited with Susanna Avery-Quash (Bloomsbury Academic, 2019). Her recent book on the eighteenth-century British conversation piece, The Conversation Piece: Making Modern Art in Eighteenth-century Britain, was published by Yale for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in 2017, winning an Historians of British Art award.
She is currently developing a project looking at the presentation of the country house as family home and will be writing a book about print rooms in eighteenth-century country houses, during a Leverhulme Research Fellowship in 2021–22.