The Wollaston Family is a rare surviving example of a large family conversation piece painted by the 18th-century English master William Hogarth.

Hogarth had been apprenticed as an engraver before joining the academy of the society painter James Thornhill in 1724. This move opened doors to polite society, and Hogarth began to receive commissions for family group portraits, known as conversation pieces. This genre had been made fashionable on the Continent by artists such as Frans Hals and Peter Paul Rubens, but Hogarth made his portraits less formal and more intimate, which better suited English tastes.

The Wollaston Family shows William Wollaston (1693-1757), a wealthy landowner with large estates in Leicestershire and Suffolk, dressed in black at the centre of the picture. His wife, Elizabeth, is seen sitting at the table wearing white, her hand placed over the teapot signifying her as hostess.

Among the other sitters are Francis Fauquier, later to become Governor of the Foundling Hospital (seated to the far left in brown), and Sarah Johnson, a wealthy heiress (standing by the fireplace with an open fan). Other members of the family and their circle are seen standing or seated in what are believed to be the Wollastons’ London apartments at Charterhouse Square. This rare depiction of a handsome 18th-century London interior adds to the painting’s significance, as does the survival of the original frame (detail above), thought to have been designed by William Kent.

New Walk Museum & Art Gallery has strong holdings of other 18th-century portraits and around 40 Hogarth engravings. The Wollaston Family has been a highlight of the collection as a long-term loan for more than 70 years and now becomes a permanent acquisition.

Provenance

Painted for William Wollaston (1693-1757); Thence by family descent.


New Walk Museum & Art Gallery

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