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Thomas Hudson, 1701–1779
flower basket and some of the draperies by Joseph Wright of Derby, 1734–1797

The Thistlethwayte Family

ca. 1758
Oil on canvas
73 1/4 × 84 1/2 inches (186.1 × 214.6 cm), Frame: 92 × 81 1/2 inches (233.7 × 207 cm)
Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Fund
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
basket | chair | costume | costume | daughters | family | flowers (plants) | hair | husband | portrait | wife
Not on view
IIIF Manifest:

A few years after Thomas Hudson’s death, the connoisseur and author Horace Walpole gently mocked the artist’s portraits and conversation pieces as “country gentlemen . . . content with [their] honest similitudes, and with . . . fair tied wigs, blue velvet coats, and white satin waistcoats.” It is an apt summary of Hudson’s unpretentious style that was tailored to his often unsophisticated clientele. Walpole might easily have been describing a gentleman like Alexander Thistlethwayte of Southwick Park in Hampshire, who poses in this nearly life-size conversation piece with his wife, Sarah, and their daughters, Catherine and Anne. If her husband’s taste in clothes was rather conservative, Sarah Thistlethwayte chose to be painted wearing the latest style, in a silk sack-back dress. She adorns her younger daughter’s hair with flowers, while the elder daughter decorates her hat with a garland.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

Unlike many other conversation pieces, which are by definition small, Thomas Hudson's imposing portrait of the Thistlethwayte family is nearly life-size. It depicts Alexander Thistlethwayte, his wife, Sarah, and their two daughters, Anne and Catharine. Mr. Thistlethwayte represented Hampshire in the House of Commons from 1751 to 1761. The family made their home at Southwick Place, Hampshire, far enough away from Oxford to erase the memory of an uncle, the Reverend Dr. Robert Thistlethwaite, whose wardenship of Wadham College ended in 1744 amid scandal arising from his recklessly indiscriminate homosexual advances toward servants, barbers, and undergraduates. The family portrait probably hung at Southwick Place during Thistlethwayte's lifetime. Showing the eldest daughter in pink, a color frequently worn by young women at the time of their betrothal, the painting may well have been commissioned to celebrate Catharine's approaching marriage.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005

A Selection of 2003 Museum Acquisitions, Apollo, v.ol 158, December 2003, p. 40, N1 A54 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Joyce Boundy, An Unpublished Conversation Piece by Thomas Hudson: The Thistlethwayte Family, Apollo, Vol. 103, No.200, October 1978, pp. 248-250, N1 A54 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

Judy Egerton, Wright of Derby, Tate Publishing, London, 1990, p.44, NJ18 W95 +E54 1990 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Hall & Knight Ltd., Advertisement [ The Thistlethwayte family ], Burlington Magazine, vol. 145, March 2003, p. 1, N1 +B87 145:1 [ORBIS]

Hall & Knight Ltd., Advertisement [ The Thistlethwayte Family ], British Art Journal, vol. 3, August 2002, p. insert 3, N6761 +B74 3 [ORBIS]

Manners & Morals : Hogarth and British painting 1700-1760 : The Tate Gallery, , Tate Gallery, London, 1987, pp. 223-4, no. 208, NJ18 H67 E55+ (YCBA) [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 OVERSIZE (YCBA) [YCBA]

Aileen Ribeiro, The Hudson Exhibition at Kenwood, Some aspects of the dress in Hudson's portraiture , Burlington Magazine, vol. 121, September 1979, pp. 596-600, N1 +B87 121:3 [ORBIS]

Susan Sloman, Gainsborough in London, Modern Art Press, London, p. 189, no. 129, NJ18.G16 S56 2021 Oversize (YCBA) [YCBA]

Sotheby's sale catalogue : British Paintings 1500-1800 : 12 March 1986, Sotheby's, London, March 12, 1986, lot 41, fig 31, Auction Catalogues (YCBA) Unbound catalogue

Thomas Hudson, 1701-1779: portrait painter and collector, a bicentenary exhibition , Greater London Council, London, 1979, p. 479, no. 59, NJ18 H8673 M55 + (YCBA) [YCBA]

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