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IIIF Actions
Arthur William Devis, 1762–1822
Emily and George Mason
between 1794 and 1795
Materials & Techniques:
Oil on canvas
42 1/2 × 39 inches (108 × 99.1 cm), Frame: 46 1/4 × 38 1/2 × 2 inches (117.5 × 97.8 × 5.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
arch | boy | brother | chair | children | column (architectural element) | conversation piece | costume | dance | daughter | girl | group portrait | harpsichord | Indian | interior | keyboard (sound device component) | man | music | musical instruments | painting (visual work) | pianoforte | portrait | rifle | servants | sister | son | stool | symbolism | tambourine | toys (recreational artifacts) | woman
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

This enigmatic portrait represents Emily and George Mason, children of Bryant Mason, an agent for the East India Company. In 1781, at the age of eighteen, Bryant Mason moved to India and would soon marry and raise his young family there. Painted around 1795, just before Arthur William Devis left India for London, this portrait serves to define Mason’s Anglo-Indian family in opposition to native Indian people. His children are physically removed from their Indian servants and inhabit a self-consciously western interior. Their servants wait outside while Emily dances with a tambourine, and George plays with a miniature musket and military drum. Though perhaps imitating Indian dance, Emily’s tambourine points to her life of carefree leisure, while George’s military toys betray the fact that British supremacy in India was based on conquest and perpetual subjugation.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

The New Child - The Origins of Modern Childhood in English Art 1730-1830 (Joslyn Art Museum, 1996-03-09 - 1996-05-05) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The New Child - The Origins of Modern Childhood in English Art 1730-1830 (Dixon Gallery & Gardens, 1995-12-10 - 1996-02-04) [YCBA Objects in the Exhibition]

The New Child - The Origins of Modern Childhood in English Art 1730-1830 (Berkeley Art Museum, 1995-08-23 - 1995-11-19) [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]

Malcolm Cormack, Concise Catalogue of Paintings in the Yale Center for British Art, Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1985, pp. 88-89, N590.2 A83 (YCBA) [YCBA]

Ellen G. D'Oench, The Conversation Piece: Arthur Devis & his contemporaries, , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1980, pp. 28, 78, cat. no. 69, NJ18 D5151 D64 OVERSIZE [ORBIS]

Richard D. Leppert, The Sight of Sound: Music, Representation, and the History of the Body, University of California Press, Berkley, 1993, p. 112, 113, Fig. 44, ML3800 L6 1993 [ORBIS]

Mario Praz, Conversation Pieces : A Survey of the Informal Group Portrait in Europe and America, , Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, University Park, 1971, p. 159, 177, No. 124, ND1304 +P713 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

James Christen Steward, The New Child : British Art and the Origins of Modern Childhood, 1730-1830, , University Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, UC Berkeley, Berkeley, 1995, pp. 40, 85, pl. 12, N6766 S78 1995 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Ian Woodfield, Music of the Raj: A Social and Economic History of Music in Late Eighteenth-Century Anglo-Indian Society, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2000, p. 31, pl. 4, ML338.3 W66 2000 [ORBIS]

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