Artwork Detail

Lord Grey and Lady Mary West as Children
c. 1740
British, 1697–1764
Oil on canvas
42 1/8 x 35 5/8 "
University purchase, Parsons Fund, 1936
WU 2147
Highlights
Among the most prominent English artists of the eighteenth century, William Hogarth was famous for his images of "modern moral subjects" - entertaining social and political satires that criticized aristocratic decadence while promoting middle-class virtue. Hogarth also painted portraits in order to subsidize his career as a satirist and establish himself as a virtuoso painter on par with other European artists. While influential for his "conversation pieces," or casual group portraits of conversing figures, Hogarth presented with Lord Grey and Lady Mary West as Children a more traditional, formal portrait, combining his characteristic attention to detail with his tendency to convey broader moral statements through subtle symbolism. The masterfully displayed lavish fabrics and small, detailed accoutrements - including a puppy, a biscuit, and a teething toy called a coral - all indicate the high social standing as well as the age of the sitters. The casual cruelty of the boy toward the squirming, anxious pup, however, provides an amusing insert into the otherwise serious and dignified tradition of upper-class portraiture.