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The Edwards Family on a Terrace

Accession Number
2000/2.3

Title
The Edwards Family on a Terrace

Artist(s)
Charles Philips

Object Creation Date
1732

Medium & Support
oil on canvas

Dimensions
28 in. x 36 in. ( 71.1 cm x 91.4 cm )

Credit Line
Museum purchase made possible by the W. Hawkins Ferry Fund

Label copy
March 28, 2009
This canvas, an early example of the genre of English portraiture known as the conversation piece, was painted by Charles Philips, one of the genre’s most successful practitioners. It depicts three generations of the family of Walter Edwards of London gathered together in an elegant garden. Walter stands in the middle of the group of adults that includes his wife, Mary, his brother, William, on his left, and a seated elderly woman, perhaps his mother. Walter’s two sons stand slightly apart from the adults, seemingly immersed in their own imaginings, one holding a parrot and the other a shell. Privileged children of this time would, in fact, have been kept apart, having little contact with their parents.
In the portrait Philips lavished attention on representing the sitters’ possessions and property, with references to classicizing architecture and landscaping that testified to their wealth and good taste. Less attention was devoted to the posing of the figures and their integration into the setting, flaws that were overlooked by patrons like the Edwards family, who prized Philips’ portraits as displays of the family’s affluence and status. Patrons for this kind of painting typically came from the newly monied classes, such as bankers or merchants, for whom the relatively modest scale of the conversation piece was appropriate to their less than aristocratic homes.

Subject matter
This group portrait, which exemplifies the genre of painting known as the "conversation piece," depicts members of the family of Walter Edwards of London in their garden. Walter stands in the center of the group behind his wife Mary, daughter of Richard Freeman of Batsford, Gloucestershire. William, Walter's brother, stands to the right behind an older woman in a wheeled chair, possibly their mother. Walter's sons stand on the left apart from the adults and hold a shell and parrot, objects that evoke the preoccupations of children. Great care was taken in this painting to capture the likenesses of the sitters and their relationship, as well as to convey their status and refinement through the meticulous rendition of their property and dress.

Physical Description
Six figures appear in a formal garden landscape. On the right a pair of men in powdered wigs stand behind two women, one seated in a wheelchair, before an elaborate portico. A pair of boys, also sporting wigs, stand on the left, partly screened by a fountain. One of the boys holds a shell and the other carries a parrot. A small pool extends through the middle ground behind the figures and draws attention to the setting and the distant obelisk visible above the trees.

Primary Object Classification
Painting

Primary Object Type
portrait

Collection Area
Western

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
conversation pieces (portraits)
families (kinship groups)
fathers
fountains
gardens (open spaces)
mothers
obelisks (monumental pillars)
oil paintings (visual works)
shell (animal material)
sons (people)

17 Related Resources

Lesson Plan: Family Dynamics
(Part of: Lesson Plans)
Making Art in a Cold Climate
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
Early Modern Atlantic World
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
Families
(Part of 5 Learning Collections)
Fatherhood
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)
London
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
Marriage
(Part of 8 Learning Collections)
Swinging on Shang
(Part of: Screen Arts and Cultures, Fall 2009 Project)
Kindergarten Tour: Family Portrait
(Part of: Visit UMMA: Curricular Tour Descriptions for Teachers)
Who's Looking at You Tour
(Part of: Docent Thematic Tours)

& Author Notes

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