1738 William Hogarth, (English artist, 1697-1764) The Hervey Conversation Piece The Holland House Group Intellectual meeting in a garden with fine furniture & garden roller.
Pioneered by William Hogarth (1697–1764) & Philip Mercier (1689-1760) in the early 18C, & continued by Arthur Devis (1712-1787), George Stubbs (1724-1806), Johan Zoffany (1733–1810) & others, the Conversation Piece was a new form of portraiture, depicting groups of traditional & aspiring gentry (2-3 or more in this series) in country house garden landscape settings. A large newly affluent middle class emerged as Britain’s colonial empire prospered in the 18C, & its Industrial Revolution began. Often socially spurned by the established aristocracy, these newly wealthy merchants, industrialists, & colonial landowners developed more natural & casual manners enlivening both novels & group portraits. These new Conversation Pieces & novels, like Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice & Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders, attempted to portray a more relaxed, more humorous "real life" of the newly wealthy middle class rather than the stiff allegories & heroic epic poems preferred by earlier aristocrats. Painters were commissioned to hold a mirror to this emerging English society & its still sought-after environment of the proper activities expected of the "natural leaders" at their "country houses" & elegantly planned landscape gardens. No longer were families simply rather stiffly painted in gardens & personal landscapes, as they were in the 17C, when budding science was promoting man as the "interpreter of Nature." Now the newly-privileged yearned to appear in complex multi-figured compositions & intricate narratives, filling their paintings with more humorous & relaxed representations of socially precise proper customs. Paintings were commissioned by families or friends to portray them sharing common aristocratic activities. The vibrant (& at times wholly fabricated) settings in these works reflect the aspirations of the emerging material culture of Georgian Britain. Artists painting Conversation Pieces portrayed a group, often in their country house garden landscape, apparently engaged in some informal genteel conversation or some acceptable elite activity. Typically those depicted were members of a family, but friends & important colleagues could be included; & sometimes, important deceased relatives also appeared. Many groups in Conversation Pieces are united by connections spurred the marriage of members of 2 families. Occasionally, artists depicted organized groups of elite gentlemen discussing new science or scholarship. The settings of Conversation Pieces reflected the image the client wanted to portray, including the ideal landscape or garden, which he wanted to demonstrate as the upper-class setting of his everyday activities. And so, these Conversation Pieces are a great way to see what those in the early 18C aspired to have in their planned, personal landscapes. The subjects of Conversation Pieces were depicted in a variety of genteel pastimes, whether or not they really could do the activities, they were portrayed enjoying. Elites, aspiring or long-established, were painted sharing common activities such as hunting, fishing, or outdoor meals & musical parties. Dogs & horses were also frequently included as proper gentry accessories.