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Creator:
Francis Wheatley, 1747–1801, British
Title:

The Browne Family

Former Title(s):

George and Mary Browne with their children

George and Mary Browne with Their Five Elder Children

Family Group in a Landscape

George and Mary Brown and their Five Elder Children

Date:
ca. 1778
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
Support (PTG): 27 3/4 x 35 inches (70.5 x 88.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
B1981.25.675
Classification:
Paintings
Collection:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
apron (main garment) | artist | bonnet | bow | boys | chemise dress | children | conversation piece | father | fichu | fishing | gesture | girls | landscape | mother | petticoat | pond | portfolio (container) | portrait | ribbon | river | riverbank | rocks (landforms) | ruffle | sketching | stockings | travel | water
Associated People:
Browne, Mary (wife of George Browne, Principal Clerk of the Westminster Fire Office)
Browne, George, Principal Clerk of the Westminster Fire Office
Access:
Not on view
Link:
https://collections.britishart.yale.edu/catalog/tms:5035
Export:
XML

In this portrait of George and Mary Brown and their five eldest children, Francis Wheatley has turned the conventions of the conversation piece upside down. The Browne family engage in the fashionable pursuits dictated by eighteenth-century ideals of polite behavior, but with a twist. It is Mr. Browne, Principal Clerk of the Westminster Fire Office insurance company, who serenely sketches by the lakeside, a traditionally female activity in conversation pieces. His wife, hitching up her skirt to reveal a bright pink petticoat, has confidently cast out her line and snared a catch, which her son George unhooks for her. Mrs. Browne’s confident stance—hand on hip—is a variation on the pose made famous by Anthony Van Dyck in his dashing male portraits.

Gallery label for An American's Passion for British Art - Paul Mellon's Legacy (Yale Center for British Art, 2007-04-18 - 2007-07-29)



Francis Wheatley's distinctive style of painting the human figure, at once dolllike and realistically expressive, is on display in this portrait. He structured the portrait around a moment of suspended action, in which Mary Browne, the matriarch, catches a fish. Her son George leans over and delicately unhooks the prize. One of the younger girls, distracted from her father's drawing, toddles toward the lake. The Browne family lived in Covent Garden in London, near Wheatley's studio. However, this thoroughly urban family has been transported by the artist's imagination to a rural landscape, which takes up a surprising amount of the painted canvas. The decorous middle-class leisure of the Browne family is contrasted with the thatched cottage in the distance. This humble dwelling suggests picturesque rural poverty, a subject that would occupy much of Wheatley's focus later in his career.

Gallery label for Francis Wheatley (Yale Center for British Art, 2005-08-31 - 2006-02-05)



The family is enjoying a pleasurable afternoon by the river. Mary Browne is angling, a pastime increasingly popular in the 18th century, and has just caught a small fish which is being taken off the line by one of her sons. George Browne is sketching the scene. Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) wrote of the benefits of the sport: "Angling…unbends the mind of the sedentary and the studios, whether it may be those employed at their desks or 'the pale artist plying his sickly trade.'"

Gallery label for Pleasures and Pastimes (Yale Center for British Art, 1990-02-21 - 1990-04-29)
In this portrait of George and Mary Browne and their five eldest children, Francis Wheatley has turned the conventions of the conversation piece upside down. The Browne family engage in the fashionable pursuits dictated by eighteenth-century ideals of polite behavior, but with a twist. It is Mr. Browne, Principal Clerk of the Westminster Fire Office insurance company, who serenely sketches by the lakeside, a traditionally female activity in conversation pieces. His wife, hitching up her skirt to reveal a bright pink petticoat, has confidently cast out her line and snared a catch, which her son George unhooks for her. Mrs. Browne’s confident stance—hand on hip—is a variation on the pose made famous by Anthony Van Dyck in his dashing male portraits. This reversal of traditional gender roles adds a layer of narrative interest missing from so many conversation pieces, in which the sitters are arranged in a monotonous friezelike manner. The Brownes are pushed to the right side of the canvas; more than half of the picture surface is given over to the depiction of the landscape that these Londoners temporarily inhabit. In the distance we see a humble thatched dwelling, suggestive of the cottagers and peasants who would become Wheatley’s dominant subject matter later in his career.

Cassandra Albinson

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's legacy: a passion for British art : masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 266-67, no. 53, pl. 53, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)



Wheatley shows George and Mary Browne and their children pursuing various fashionable leisure activities on the banks of a calm river or pond. Actively engaging the viewer with her stare, Mrs. Browne dominates the canvas. She cuts a self-assured figure, jauntily hitching up her crisp white apron to avoid soiling it with the muddy water lapping against the bank. She is at once sporty and fashionable; her fancy ribboned hat seems out of place in such a natural setting, yet it does serve to shade her eyes from the noonday sun. Her husband, also fashionably attired for their outing, relaxes with his family while he sketches quietly by the water.

One did not have to travel far into the countryside to angle, as fishing was most often called. From the 1650s onwards, angling was an increasingly popular leisure sport, and sales of how-to manuals and treatises thrived. Both men and women enjoyed the sport, and often artists, such as Francis Hayman, featured women anglers in their more decorative paintings. Although more complex methods of fishing, such as ?y-fishing for trout, were commonly practiced, Mrs. Browne uses here a simple rod from which the line, probably of horsehair, dips into the water close to the bank. The older boy appears to be throwing something into the water-possibly food to help attract fish to his mother's line. The young girls, particularly the oldest, gesture as if to indicate that their mother will soon make a successful catch. In order to ensure the success of such outings, freshwater ponds, streams, and rivers were frequently stocked with carp, pike, and trout.

Picnicking, fishing, and drawing had become bythe mid-eighteenth century suitable recreation for all classes of British society. Over the course of the century, improvements in transportation, such as faster, more affordable, and safer coaches, enabled Londoners to make frequent trips to country sites on the outskirts of the metropolis; for longer holidays many ventured to popular locations farther afield.

Wheatley's painting not only depicts a family engaged in pleasurable pastimes but also reflects current philosophies on child-rearing. In the 1760s Jean-Jacques Rousseau's Emile, a treatise on the proper education of the child, influenced the ways in which couples viewed and treated their children. Couching his philosophy in an engaging narrative, Rousseau counseled parents to participate actively in their children's upbringing and emphasized the positive effects that nature and outdoor activity had on children's mental and physical health. The Brownes, frolicking at water's edge and engaging in salubrious activities, stand as a model family of the Enlightenment.

Living with his family in Covent Garden, near where Wheatley had his studio in the years 1772-75, George Browne was Principal Clerk of the Westminster Fire Of?ce, one of the oldest insurance companies in London. He and his wife had married and had their first child in 1764. This painting shows five of the Browne's eventual ten children; they are, from left to right: Amelia Wilhelmina (b. 1767); George Howe (b. 1764); Edward Walpole (b. 1766); Mary (b. 1769); and either Charlotte (b. 1770) or Harriet (b. 1772).

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, pp. 10, 38, 62-3, no. 19, fig. 9, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

A Great Collection of British Pictures in Virginia, The Times (London), Issue No. 55689, May 1, 1963, p. 5, Available Online : Times Digital Archive Also available on Microfilm: Film An T482 (SML)

Geoffrey Agnew, Yale's 1700 Mellon Pictures, The Times (London), issue no. 59989, Thursday, April 28, 1977, p. 9, Available Online : Times Digital Archive Also available on Microfilm : Film An T842 (SML)

Cassandra Albinson, The worlds of Francis Wheatley, Yale Center for British Art, [New Haven, 2005, back cover, V 1612

Brian Allen, The Sport of Collecting : Paul Mellon and British Art, Apollo, v.165,no.542, April 2007, pp. 32-33,37, fig. 1, N1 A54 + (YCBA)

John Baskett, Paul Mellon's Legacy: a Passion for British Art: Masterpieces from the Yale Center for British Art, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, pp. 266-67, no. 53, pl. 53, N5220 M552 P38 2007 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Geoffrey W. Beard, The compleat gentleman, five centuries of aristocratic life , Rizzoli, New York, 1992, p. 158, HT653 G7 B415 1992 (YCBA)

Judy Egerton, British Sporting and Animal Paintings 1655-1867: A Catalogue, The Paul Mellon Collection , Tate Publishing, London, 1978, pp. 139-41, no. 133, Colour Pl. 20, ND1383 G7 B75 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Elisabeth Fairman, Pleasures and pastimes, exhibition labels , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, 1990, p. 109, no. 267, DA485 F251 1990 (YCBA)

Elisabeth Fairman, Pleasures and pastimes, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, Connecticut, 1990, p. 33, no. 267, DA485 F25 1990 (YCBA)

Francis Wheatley RA, 1747-1801, paintings, drawings & engravings : an exhibition arranged by the Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art in association with the Aldeburgh Festival of Music and the Arts, June 15-25, and the City Art Gallery, Leeds, July 8-August 8. , The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art, [London, 1965, p. 7, 45, No. 97, NJ18 W56 A63+ (YCBA)

Luke Herrmann, The Paul Mellon Collection at Burlington House, Connoisseur, v. 157, no. 634, December 1964, pp. 213,216, fig. 5, N1 C75 + OVERSIZE (YCBA) Another copy available in YCBA Vertical File Collection: v 2334

E. D. H. Johnson, Paintings of the British social scene, from Hogarth to Sickert , Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1986, p. 74, no. 43, ND1452 G7 J64 (YCBA)

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 10, 38, 62-3, no. 19, fig. 9, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

Painting in England 1700-1850 from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, The Royal Academy of Arts Winter Exhibition 1964-65., , Royal Academy of Arts, London, UK, 1964, p. 61 (v. 1), no. 220, ND466 R68 1964/65 (YCBA) Also available on Microfiche: Fiche B214 (YCBA)

Painting in England 1700-1850, collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon. , Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 139 (v. 1), no. 264, pl. 207, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA)

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, Mellon Shelf (YCBA)

J. H. Plumb, The pursuit of happiness : a view of life in Georgian England : an exhibition selected from the Paul Mellon collection, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1977, p. 31, 69, cover, no. 1, N6766 Y34 1977 (YCBA)

Mario Praz, Conversation Pieces : A Survey of the Informal Group Portrait in Europe and America, , Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, University Park, 1971, fig. 143, ND1304 +P713 Oversize (YCBA)

Kate Retford, The Conversation Piece Making Modern Art in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2017, p. 167, fig. 128, ND1314.4 .R48 2017 (LC) Oversize (YCBA)

Sotheby's sale catalogue : Catalogue of Fine Paintings by Old Masters and Modern Drawings : 14 June 1939, Sotheby's, London, 1939, p. 21, Lot 146, Film B12, Part III, reel 138 of 155 (YCBA)

The Yale Center for British Art, An Anniversary Celebration of Paul Mellon's Great Legacy , Apollo, April 2007, pp. 32-33, fig. 1, N5220 M552 A7 OVERSIZE (YCBA) Appeared as April 2007 issue of Apollo;; all of the articles may also be found in bound Apollo Volume [N1 A54 165:2 +]

Mary Webster, Francis Wheatley, Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art, London, 1970, pp.23-24, p. 125, no. 27, fig. 27, NJ18 W56 W43 (YCBA)

Wheatley, Francis - exhibition, The Times (London), June 1965, p. 17, Film AN T482 (SML Microfilm) Also available on Microfilm: Film An T482 (SML)

Wheatley, Francis - grave: correspondence, The Times (London), February 1936, p. 8, Film An T482 (SML Film)

Yale University Art Gallery, Painting in England, 1700-1850, from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon, [exhibition at] Yale University Art Gallery, April 15-June 20, 1965. , vol. 1, W. Clowes and sons, New Haven, 1965, p. 59 (v. 1), no. 220, ND466 Y35 (YCBA)


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