National Gallery of Art - THE COLLECTION
image of Family Group Francis Wheatley (artist)
British, 1747 - 1801
Family Group, c. 1775/1780
oil on canvas
overall: 91.7 x 71.4 cm (36 1/8 x 28 1/8 in.) framed: 113.3 x 92.7 x 6.6 cm (44 5/8 x 36 1/2 x 2 5/8 in.)
Paul Mellon Collection
1983.1.43
Not on View
From the Tour: British Conversation Pieces and Portraits of the 1700s
Object 4 of 6

The name of this family, whose father proudly confronts the viewer, remains unknown. The mandolin was a studio prop of the painter Francis Wheatley and therefore does not help identify the sitters. The modish, diagonally swept-back hairstyle of the mother and daughter dates this conversation piece to the late 1770s. The ladies’ fashions and Wheatley’s use of light, bright colors reveal an influence from contemporary French rococo art. The “V”-shaped geometry that unifies the group, silhouetted against the dark foliage of a park, typifies Wheatley’s well-structured compositions.

Wheatley altered this design in progress, deciding to move the father’s knee in front of the daughter’s skirt. Now that the oil paint has become more transparent with age, the original outline of her dress shows through his breeches.

Wheatley entered the Royal Academy school in 1769 as one of its first students. Oddly, his election as a member of the Royal Academy in 1791 damaged Wheatley’s career because his rival for that position, the young Thomas Lawrence, was favored by the royal family. Society immediately snubbed Wheatley, and his portrait commissions declined.

To make ends meet during the 1790s, Wheatley turned to painting sentimental scenes intended for engraving. The Cries of London, thirteen popular prints made after his canvases, vividly document a vanished lifestyle of street vendors hawking their wares.

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