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IIIF Actions
Arthur Devis, 1712–1787
Children in an Interior [1985, Cormack, YCBA Concise Catalogue]
Former Title(s):

Children in an interior, formerly The Cholmondeley Children [1980, D'Oench, The Conversation Piece, exhibition catalogue]

Portrait of a Group of Children
ca. 1743
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
39 x 49 3/4 inches (99.1 x 126.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
arch | architecture | boys | brothers | bust | cane | card table | chairs | children | columns (architectural elements) | conversation piece | costume | daughters | decoration | family | fireplace | fresco | games | girls | group portrait | heir | interior | Ionic | kite | mantels | ornament | overmantel | paintings | Palladian window | pilasters | playing cards | playing cards | portrait | sewing basket | sons | stucco | toys
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

This conversation piece is remarkable for the elaborate architecture and decoration of the interior, a succession of three splendid rooms with (left to right) a seventeenth-century ancestral portrait mounted as an overmantel, Ionic pilasters, rich stucco ornament, a frescoed ceiling in the middle room, small paintings hung high in oval recesses, a marine painting overdoor flanked by marble busts, and a Palladian window overlooking the park beyond. Presumably Devis extracted some or all of these details from an architectural pattern book. The group of children consists of a little boy riding a gentleman's cane; the elder daughter with her sewing basket; the younger daughter, who is building a house of cards; and the eldest son and heir, who holds onto the tail of the paper kite that is propped in the corner of the room.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005

The simple toys in this conversation piece are typical of those available to children of the mid-18th century. The little girl behind the table is building a house of cards, while her brother is holding the tail of his kite. The youngest is playing horse, sitting astride a walking stick.

Gallery label for Pleasures and Pastime (Yale Center for British Art, 1990-02-21 - 1990-04-29)
Children in an Interior is an early example of Devis's work as a painter of conversation pieces, the genre of informal domestic portraiture in which he made his reputation and career. The four children playing in a monumental interior convey a touching and somewhat enigmatic picture of domestic life in the eighteenth century. They seem resigned to entertaining themselves and have found ingenious ways to play within the strict and forbidding con?nes of the great gallery of their house. Particularly touching is the young boy at the left, who has converted an ornamented walking-stick into his hobby horse. The games the children play are ultimately in vain: the older boy's kite is grounded, and the younger girl builds a fragile house of cards. The conceit of children occupied in fruitless activity was common in French Rococo painting of the period (one has only to think of paintings by Chardin, for instance), the themes of which were popularized in England by artists such as Philippe Mercier and Hubert Gravelot.
Devis found inspiration in the work of his French contemporaries and in Dutch seventeenth-century interior scenes. Having had little formal training as a portraitist, he used his knowledge of topographical landscape painting to render architecturally accurate interiors, compensating for his moderate talent at ?gure painting. The contrasting wooden and stone surfaces, the varied textures of the children's clothing, and the velvet and gilt furnishings join with still-life elements such as the sewing basket on the table to create an enchanting, albeit deceptive, vision of this interior playground.
Almost doll-like in appearance, the young sitters seem stiff and overwhelmed by the accoutrements of their surroundings. Devis's practice of using lay figures (wooden mannequins measuring about thirty inches high) frequently gave such a stultified look to his paintings. He relied on these figures throughout his career, as did many of his contemporaries, since their use reduced the number of hours a sitter would have to spend posing in the painter's studio. We know that he had a number of costumes for his lay ?gures, both male and female (afew are now in the Harris Museum in Preston), and he obviously recycled the same costumes, since many appear in portraits of different sitters. In addition to using lay ?gures and stock costumes, he also depended on architectural pattern-books, designs from which he would often select for use in the settings of his portraits. Contrary to our preconceptions of portraiture as an intensely personal genre, he often did not paint his subjects in their own homes and would repeat architectural forms and details in numerous portraits of the same period. Some of the setting of Children in an Interior-particularly the decorative pilasters, the half-visible pictures on the wall, the perspectival sequence of rooms, and the Serlian window-are virtually identical to ones used elsewhere. Devis's use of such regularized poses, settings, and costumes gives to this painting an airless, slightly eerie atmosphere that, ironically, undermines the ostensibly jovial pursuits of the young sitters.
Neither the artist nor probably his patrons denied or disliked the stage-like quality of his portraits. By including a teal velvet curtain drawn back at the upper right of this picture, he reinforces rather than repudiates the arti?ciality of the image. His early patrons may have consciously sought to have their portraits emphasize the material, as opposed to psychological, aspects oftheir lives. The use of stock elements was not an unusual practice in seventeenth- or eighteenth-century portraiture, and to members of the gentry, anxious to be perceived as socially acceptable through their material wealth and good breeding, appearance would have been more important than truth.

Julia Marciari-Alexander

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 46, 47, no. 11, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Exchange Loan for Wright of Derby in Liverpool (Fitchburg Art Museum, 2007-11-12 - 2008-09-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of South Australia, 1998-09-16 - 1998-11-15) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Queensland Art Gallery, 1998-07-15 - 1998-09-06) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

This Other Eden : British Paintings from the Paul Mellon Collection at Yale (Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1998-05-01 - 1998-07-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition] [Exhibition Description]

Pleasures and Pastimes (Yale Center for British Art, 1990-02-21 - 1990-04-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Arthur Devis (Harris Museum and Art Gallery, 1983-11-25 - 1984-01-29) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Arthur Devis (National Portrait Gallery, 1983-10-01 - 1983-11-12) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The Conversation Piece - Arthur Devis & His Contemporaries (Yale Center for British Art, 1980-10-01 - 1980-11-30) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

Acquisitions : The First Decade 1977-1986, Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1986, pp. 9, 12,13, no. 12, fig. 5, N590.2 A7 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Geoffrey W. Beard, The compleat gentleman, five centuries of aristocratic life , Rizzoli, New York, 1992, p. 29, HT653 G7 B415 1992 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 86-87, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Albert M. Craig, The heritage of world civilizations, Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, NJ, 2000, p. 623, CB69 H45X 2000 + (SML) [ORBIS]

Ellen G. D'Oench, Arthur Devis (1712-1787): master of the Georgian conversation piece, , University Microfilms International, Ann Arbor, Mich., 1982, pp. 52, 246, no. 37, fg. 100, NJ18 D5151 D635 1979A (YCBA) [YCBA]

Ellen G. D'Oench, The Conversation Piece: Arthur Devis & his contemporaries, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1980, pp. 12, 46-47, 92, cat. no. 8, AD List no. 246, pl.. 8, NJ18 D5151 D64 OVERSIZE [ORBIS]

Elisabeth Fairman, Pleasures and pastimes, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, 1990, p. 12, no. 59, DA485 F25 1990 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Andrew Graham-Dixon, A history of British art, BBC, London, UK, 1996, p. 85, No. 32, N6761 G72 1996 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden : Paintings from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, p. 46, 47, no. 11, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Sarah Morris, A teacher's guide to using portraits, English Heritage, London, UK, 1989, p. 29, no. 47, N7625.5 M67 1989 (YCBA) [YCBA]

R. Parkinson, Arthur Devis and His Contemporaries: Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Conn: Exhibit, Burlington Magazine, v. 123, no. 934, January 1981, p. 61, N1 B87 + OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

R. Parkinson, Contemporaries at the Yale Center for British Art, Burlington Magazine, Vol. 123, No. 934, January 1981, , N1 B87+ YCBA [ORBIS]

Paul Mellon's Legacy : a passion for British art [large print labels], , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 3, N5220 M552 P381 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Polite society by Arthur Devis, 1712-1787, portraits of the English country gentleman and his family : catalogue of the exhibition, The Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston, Lancs., October 1st-November 12th, 1983, National Portrait Gallery, London, November 25th, 1983-January 29th, 1984 , Harris Museum and Art Gallery, Preston (Lancashire), 1983, pp. 44, 80, no. 12, NJ18 D5151 S37 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Duncan Robinson, Acquisitions : The First Decade 1977 - 1986, , Burlington Magazine, vol. 128, October 1986, pp. 9, 12, 13, no. 12, fig. 5, N1 B87 128:3 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Charles Saumarez Smith, Eighteenth-century decoration: design and the domestic interior in England, , Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1993, p. 126, 168, 169, no. 155, NK2043 A1 S28 1993 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Deborah Anne Shafer, Fashioning an Ideal of Intimacy: British Family 1730-1790 [Boston University PhD Dissertation], Ann Arbor, 2004, p. xi, 86, Cat no. 33, Available online at ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global [ORBIS]

Roy C. Strong, The British portrait, 1660-1960, Antique Collectors' Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk, 1991, pp. 43, 46, 72, col. pl. 6 ,pl. 67, ND1314 B743 1991 (YCBA) [YCBA]

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