Enfilade

New Book | The Conversation Piece

Posted in books by internjmb on September 30, 2017

From Yale UP:

Kate Retford, The Conversation Piece: Making Modern Art in Eighteenth-Century Britain (London: Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, 2017), 440 pages, ISBN: 978 030019 4807, $75.

Pioneered by William Hogarth (1697–1764) and his peers in the early eighteenth century, and then revitalized by Johan Zoffany (1733–1810), the conversation piece was an innovative mode of portraiture, depicting groups posed in landscape or domestic settings. These artists grappled with creating complex multi-figured compositions and intricate narratives, filling their paintings with representations of socially, nationally, and temporally precise customs. Paying particular attention to the vibrant (and at times fabricated) interior and exterior settings in these works, Kate Retford discusses the various ways that the conversation piece engaged with the rich material culture of Georgian Britain. The book also explores how these portraits served a wide array of interests and concerns among familial networks and larger social groups. From codifying performances of politeness to engaging in cross-cultural exchanges, the conversation piece was a complex and nuanced expression of a multifaceted society.

Kate Retford is senior lecturer in 18th- and early 19th-century art at Birkbeck, University of London.

 

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