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Provenance

Painted for Sir William Maynard, 4th bt. [1721-1772], Waltons, Ashdon, Essex; by descent to Frances, Countess of Warwick,[1] who offered it as property of the Maynard Collection at (sale, Sotheby's, London, 21 November 1934, no. 34, bought in); offered again, as property of the late Frances, Countess of Warwick, and of the Hon. Maynard and Mrs. Greville at (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 28 May 1948, no. 25), bought by Hemming. Walter Hutchinson, London; (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 20 July 1951, no. 87, bought in); (sale, Christie, Manson & Woods, London, 7 October 1955, no. 24); purchased by (Betts) for (Montague Bernard), who sold it to (Ackermann), from whom it was purchased 1960 by Paul Mellon, Upperville, Virginia; gift 1964 to NGA.

Exhibition History
1949
The First 618 Selected Pictures, National Gallery of Sports and Pastimes, London, n.d. [1949], no. 14.
1964
Extended loan for use by Ambassador David K.E. Bruce, U.S. Embassy residence, London, England, 1964-1969 (on loan to Embassy when given to NGA; lent prior to 1964 by Paul Mellon).
1969
Extended loan for use by Ambassador John S.D. Eisenhower, U.S. Embassy residence, Brussels, Belgium, 1969-1972.
1980
The Conversation Piece: Arthur Devis & His Contemporaries, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1980, no. 38, repro. (cat. by Ellen G. D'Oench).
1986
Gifts to the Nation: Selected Acquisitions from the Collections of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1986, unnumbered checklist
Bibliography
1950
Pavière, Sydney H. The Devis Family of Painters. Leigh-on-Sea, 1950: 34, no. 141.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 41, as Conversation Piece, Ashdon House.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 34, repro., as Conversation Piece, Ashdon House.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 106, repro., as Conversation Piece, Ashdon House.
1975
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1975: no. 518, color repro.
1979
Harris, John. The Artist and the Country House. London, 1979: no. 234.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 365, no. 512, color repro., as Conversation Piece, Asdon House.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 129, repro.
1992
Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 1992: 57-60, repro. 59.
Technical Summary

The medium-weight, plain-woven canvas is composed of two pieces of linen with a vertical seam to left of center; it has been lined. The ground is pinkish brown, thickly applied, masking the weave of the canvas. A thin white imprimatura has been applied locally beneath the red dress of the woman seated on the right. The painting is executed in thin, opaque, enamellike layers, with virtually no impasto and minimal texture; the brushwork is smoothly blended in the sky and grass, and loosely and fluidly applied in the costume, with light, delicate brushstrokes in the lace flounces and jewelry; the tonality of the ground layer shows through in areas such as the sky and passages in the trees. The painting has suffered heavily from losses and abrasion, and extensive areas in the sky, foliage, and landscape have been retouched; the face of the woman on the left has been traversed by a vertical line of damage. During conservation between 1934 and 1951 a horse standing in profile in the center left was painted out owing to damage in this area, and the face of the little girl on the right was repainted.[1] It is possible that a kite (removed before the picture was acquired by Paul Mellon) was added at the same time, as the little girl on the left is described in Christie's sale catalogues of 1951 and 1955 as flying a kite; the shape is evident to the naked eye in place of the flowers the girl is holding, but it is not revealed (as the horse is) by infrared reflectography or x-radiographs. The moderately thick natural resin varnish has not discolored significantly.

[1] The horse is seen in the illustration in the catalogue of the Maynard Collection sale, Sotheby's, London, 2I November 1934, no. 34.