Critical Issues in American Art: A Book of Readings

By Mary Ann Calo | Go to book overview

the complex "reception theory" of cultural change in which novel forms are selectively adopted rather than poorly mimicked.

By reading eighteenth-century family portraits in terms of the relationship of the figures, their attributes, and their activities and by finding consistent patterns in the portrayal of these elements, we can gain some insight into the larger questions of changing (and class-distinct) family manners, ideologies, and attitudes toward authority. The hyperbole we read in these portraits by West, Copley, and Peale is particularly telling. In the post-1760 urban works the children are more unleashed, the fathers more reticent, and the mothers more central than the verbal documents lead us to expect. In this breech between "reality" as social historians have come to understand it and the fiction the artists have described, we can locate the confirming factors of a new social order.


NOTES

From Winterthur Portfolio ( 1987). Reprinted by permission of the author and the University of Chicago Press.

1.
Lawrence Stone, The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500-1800 ( London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1977), pp. 12, 20; Neil McKendrick et al., The Birth of a Consumer Society: The Commercialization of Eighteenth-Century England ( Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1982), p. 10 and passim; Henry Glassie, Folk Housing in Middle Virginia ( Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1975), pp. 66-193.
2.
François Nivelon, The Rudiments of Genteel Behavior ( London, 1737), n.p.
3.
That the portraits were intended to be hung facing one another is indicated by such contemporary documents as the parental pair on the wall in Johann Zoffany's Prince George and Prince Frederick in an Interior in Buckingham House ( 1765, Royal Collection); that the convention was commonly understood is suggested by William Hogarth's pointed and witty inflection of the betrothed couple away from each other in Marriage à la Mode: The Marriage Contract ( 1743-45, National Gallery, London).
4.
Philippe Ariès, Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life, trans. Robert Baldick ( New York: Random House, 1960), p. 353; Georges Duby, The Knight, the Lady and the Priest: The Making of Modern Marriage in Medieval France, trans. Barbara Bray ( New York: Pantheon Books, 1983), pp. 228ff. Other English dual portraits from the first half of the eighteenth century include Arthur Devis William Atherton and His Wife, Lucy (ca. 1744, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) and Mr. and Mrs. Hill ( 1750, Yale Center for British Art).
5.
Other examples include Ralph Earl Justice Oliver Ellsworth and His Wife ( 1792, Wadsworth Atheneum) and Copley Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Izard ( 1775, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).
6.
Stone, Family, Sex and Marriage, pp. 8, 325-404; English dual-figure portraits, such as Henry Raeburn's Sir John and Lady Clark of Penicuik (ca. 1790, Sir Alfred Beit Collection) and Gainsborough Mr. and Mrs. Hallett ( 1785, National Gallery, London), include similar instances of couples leaning on and touching one another.
7.
Ronald Paulson, Emblem and Expression: Meaning in English Art of the Eighteenth Century ( London: Thames and Hudson, 1975), p. 157; Stone, Family, Sex and Marriage, p. 4. Other pre-1760 family groups by American artists include John Greenwood Greenwood-Lee Family Group ( 1747, private collection) and Joseph Blackburn Isaac Winslow and His Family ( 1755, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston); English works exhibiting these characteristics include Gainsborough's Mr. and Mrs. John Gravenor and Their Daughters (ca. 1748-50, Yale Center for British Art), Hogarth's William Ashley Cowper with His Wife and Daughter ( 1731, Tate Gallery), Devis Robert Gwillyn of Atherton and His Family (ca. 1749, Yale Center for British Art), and Francis Hayman Margaret Tyers and Her Husband (ca. 1750-52, Yale Center for British Art).
8.
John Witherspoon, "Letters on Education" ( 1797), in Philip J. Greven Jr., Child-Rearing Concepts, 1628-1861: Historical Sources

-44-

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