The Georgian Family and the Parental Role

The New Child: British Art and the Origins of Modern Childhood
An exhibition at the University Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive, UC Berkeley
August 23 - November 19, 1995

Family portraiture exploded in popularity in Georgian Britain, as a developing middle class found the means to join the upper classes in recording themselves in paint, pen, or pencil. The middle classes took the lead in rethinking the family structure and parents' relationship to their children-and how such issues could be represented in art. As a result, the child's place within the family and within the family portrait shifted dramatically. From stiffly ordered, hierarchical images such as Arthur Devis's The John Bacon Family (1742-43) to more animated and varied representations of children with their parents later in the century, artists themselves actually challenged the family structure. The greatest shift here focused on the father's place within the family, and his historical role as the economic provider and disciplinarian. Although fathers were still represented with their children by artists of the Georgian period, they were most often seen in the act of educating their offspring. At the same time, artists began validating the separate world of children as children broke down the traditional hierarchies of power built on the father.

Mothers, however, came fully to the fore, their emotional bond with their children depicted in dramatic and original ways. The possibility of parental indulgence took form for the first time, as even the most aristocratic women discovered the joys of at least posing as good mothers.

Arthur Devis
The John Bacon Family
about 1742-43
Oil on canvas
30 x 51 5/8 in. (76.6 x 131.1 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Explore this image in our Self-Guided Tour for Young People

Henry Walton
Sir Robert and Lady Buxton and their daughter Anne
about 1786
Oil on canvas
29 x 36 1/2 in. (73.7 x 92.7 cm)
Norfolk Museums Service (Norwich Castle Museum)

David Allan
The Family of the 7th Earl of Mar at Alloa House
Oil on canvas
60 3/8 x 85 1/4 in. (153.4 x 216.5 cm)
Trustees of the late Lord Mar and Kellie, courtesy of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

Sir Joshua Reynolds
Mrs. John Spencer and her daughter
Oil on canvas (unfinished)
30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm)
The Duke of Devonshire and the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees

George Keating
fl. 1775-76
Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, with her Daughter
19 May 1787
Mezzotint engraving after Sir Joshua Reynolds
12 x 15 5/8 in. (30.5 x 39.7 cm)
The Duke of Devonshire and the Chatsworth Settlement Trustees

Benjamin West
Mrs. Benjamin West and her son Raphael
about 1770
Oil on canvas 35 3/4 in. (90.8 cm) diam.
Marriner S. Eccles Collection, Utah Museum of Fine Arts, University of Utah

John Hamilton Mortimer
Gentleman and Boy Looking at Prints
about 1765-70
Oil on canvas
30 x 25 in. (76.2 x 63.5 cm)
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

Johann Zoffany
The Reverend Randall Burroughs and his son Ellis
Oil on canvas
28 x 35 3/4 in. (71.1 x 91 cm)
Muse du Louvre, dpartement des Peintures

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