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.
From Winterthur Portfolio ( 1987). Reprinted by permission of the author and the University of Chicago Press.
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.
François Nivelon, The Rudiments of Genteel Behavior ( London, 1737), n.p.
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).
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.
( 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).
Other examples include
Ralph Earl Justice
Oliver Ellsworth and His Wife ( 1792, Wadsworth
Copley Mr. and Mrs. Ralph Izard
( 1775, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).
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.
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).
John Witherspoon, "Letters on Education"
( 1797), in
Philip J. Greven Jr., Child-Rearing Concepts, 1628-1861: Historical Sources