Sunday, September 7, 2008

The Enlightened Family Portrait, Part 1 Women and Children

There were many means of expressing a sitter's sense of Enlightenment in portraits. One of the most popular accessories a sitter used was their family. Family portraits in the 18th century weren't necessarily commissioned because the sitter wanted to immortalize their children or save money with a group portrait, it was a means of immortalizing yourself as a creature of Enlightenment. Of course, not everyone had selfish motives by getting a family portrait, but the rise in their popularity can be attributed to this trend. The painters who thought outside the box with the composition and the sitters' interactions with each other produced some of the greatest paintings in this genre. After all, anyone could snap a family portrait at Sears but is that who celebrities go to when they want theirs? No, they tend to want something creative that shows a hint of candour and love. The same concept went for artists in 18th century and it is what made painters, such as Joshua Reynolds. See why these painters made the big bucks:

Joshua Reynolds, Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire and Her Daughter, 1784

John Hoppner, Harriet, Viscountess Duncannon and her Two Sons, 1787

George Romney, Jane, Duchess of Gordon and her Son, the Marquis of Huntly, 1778

Joshua Reynolds, Lady Cockburn and Her Three Eldest Sons, 1777

Joshua Reynolds, Lady Smith and Children, 1787

George Romney, The Gower Family, 1776-7

Joshua Reynolds, Miss Cocks and Her Niece, 1789


  1. I've never seen some of those before- thanks for posting them here; they're really beautiful! Why do the two "boys" have dresses on, though?

  2. That's a good question. Little boys wore dresses up until they were toddlers. This was the common practice through history until the 19th century when little boys were put in gender-specific clothing and it has caused confusion in certain obscure paintings. It is kind of like when babies get baptized now, both sexes wear the baptismal gown. In fact, in the 18th century some parents even had their boys wearing stays in order for their body to develop into the 'proper' shape, poor kids.

  3. They dressed baby's and totters in gender neutral clothing for several reasons. One is so they could prepare for it before it's born, like we do with yellow or green baby clothing, when the sex is unknown. Two, its easier to potty train, cause when your rushing to the potty, you don't want to worry about ties or buttons. They did wear stays and they do help with posture. Modern audiences confuse stays with waist cinching corsets and don't realize they were not nearly as restraining, especial on someone with out breasts.

  4. Absolutely lush and gorgeous. Thank you for this post.

  5. Wonderful post! One small note: I believe it should read "a hint of candour and love," rather than "a hint of candidacy and love."

  6. Woops! Thank you for the catch, what a silly mistake!