The Art of Domestic Life

Family Portraiture in Eighteenth-Century England

Kate Retford

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This book is the first to explore English family portraiture in the 18th century, a varied category ranging from small-scale conversation pieces to grandiose, full-length images. Kate Retford probes this much-loved genre to trace the values and meanings behind these compositions.
While early images by artists such as Arthur Devis depicted sitters stiffly posed, later in the century scenes of affection and intimacy were created by portraitists like Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds. In the country-house collections, portraits first emphasized ancestry and inherited virtue, but later emphasized the domestic merits of the family. The Art of Domestic Life contributes a wealth of visual evidence to the history of the family. It offers important insights into both the innovations and traditions in family portraiture of this period, drawing on in-depth research into paintings, the lives of the sitters depicted, and the domestic spaces in which portraits were hung.
Published for the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art

Kate Retford is a lecturer at Birkbeck College, University of London.

“[A] fascinating study of 18th-century family portraiture… Yes, it’s all a bit sentimental, but it’s also rather touching.” - The Independent

'The Art of Domestic Life is a terrific book. Not only does it deal with some of the most entrancing images of the eighteenth century, but it does so in a manner free of the kind of academic language that kills the will to read."---The Art Book

"... a worthy runner-up for the Longman/History Today Book of the Year... very extensively, pertinently and handsomely illustrated work that ranges widely to include issues such as childlessness and portraits of fathers."---Jeremy Black, History Today

"Entertaining, learned, and beautifully produced . . . with plentiful and gorgeous large colorplates as well as excellent smaller black-and-white reproductions of the paintings Retford refers to. The book is a model of how to contextualize family portraiture and integrate art into the history of the times."—Ruth Perry, Journal of British Studies

"Excellent. . . .Retford's easy and accessible style complements the sophistication and academic credentials of the book's argument—a rare and welcome combination that will be appreciated by the general reader and specialists alike."—Richard Johns, Winterthur Portfolio

Shortlisted for the Longman-History Today Book of the Year Award 2007
ISBN: 9780300110012
Publication Date: August 15, 2006
Publishing Partner: Published in association with the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art
368 pages, 7 1/2 x 10
175 b/w + 24 color illus.
The Conversation Piece

Making Modern Art in 18th-Century Britain

Kate Retford

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