£1m portrait of 18th-century literary sensation for Tate

  • Published 9 August 2006

With Art Fund's help Tate has acquired a portrait of the novelist Samuel Richardson, who achieved phenomenal success in 1740 with his first book, Pamela.

The painting by Francis Hayman is one of the most important small-scale ‘conversation pieces’ to have come on the art market in recent times. Samuel Richardson, the Novelist (1689-1761), Seated Surrounded by his Second Family was acquired for £1 million, with a £150,000 grant from Art Fund. Additional funding came from the National Heritage Memorial Fund (NHMF).

Pamela or Virtue Rewarded is a seminal work in the history of English literature, and tells of a young servant’s struggle against her master’s advances. It was at once massively influential and went through five editions in its first year.

Through the book’s success Richardson made an almost instantaneous transition from publisher and printmaker to one of the most important and admired writers of his time. Today he is regarded as one of the founding fathers of the modern novel.

Samuel Richardson, the Novelist (1689-1761), Seated Surrounded by his Second Family was made just after the publication of Pamela and may have been conceived to celebrate the author’s success. The portrait is a key example of a ‘conversation piece’, a fashionable genre of informal portraiture in which sitters would appear in domestic or private settings.

Their costumes, possessions and occupations, as well as their gestures and placement, made deliberate statements about social and personal relationships. In the painting Richardson is seated with a book in his hand – perhaps a copy of his own celebrated novel – and relaxes in the company of his second family.

Francis Hayman was one of the founding members of the Royal Academy, and later its first librarian. A highly successful portraitist, history painter and genre painter, Hayman was one of the leading lights of the artistic community in London in the first half of the 18th century, whose work inspired Gainsborough and numerous other British artists of his generation.

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