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Assembly at Wanstead House

William Hogarth, English, 1697 - 1764

Made in Great Britain, Europe


Oil on canvas

25 1/2 x 30 inches (64.8 x 76.2 cm)

Curatorial Department:
European Painting

* Gallery 279, European Art 1500-1850, second floor

Accession Number:

Credit Line:
The John Howard McFadden Collection, 1928

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In the ballroom of Wanstead House the Child family has gathered for tea drinking and card playing. The painting probably records the celebration of the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary of Richard Child and Dorothy Glynne Child, Lord and Lady Castlemaine. Dressed in rich red velvet, Lord Castlemaine is seated on the far right with two of his daughters. Lady Castlemaine, seated at the card table in the center of the room, looks towards her husband and shows him the winning card, the ace of spades, alluding to their winning partnership.

Additional information:
  • PublicationBritish Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art

    In January 1730 George Vertue wrote, "The daily success of Mr Hogarth in painting small family peices & Conversations with so much Air & agreeableness Causes him to be much followd, & esteemd."1 At this time Hogarth had been active as a painter for only about two years, having begun, as far as we know, to paint conversations only after his marriage to Jane Thornhill on March 23, 1729.2 Originally an engraver, caricaturist, and illustrator, Hogarth was inspired by exceptional events that stirred his imagination for his first oil paintings. The scene from The Beggar's Opera, for example, represents the artist's response to the success of the 1728 theatrical season, a play written, produced, and acted by his friends. The Committee of the House of Commons (the Goals Committee) of 1729 (20 1/8 x 27", copy, London, National Portrait Gallery) depicted--one wants to say recorded--a parliamentary inquiry into abuses by the warden of the Fleet debtor's prison, and was a subject of personal interest to Hogarth, whose own father had suffered in the Fleet from 1708 to 1712. To take commissions for portraits of men and families not connected in any way with the artist was, therefore, an important change of direction, and in some ways it is odd that Hogarth should have made such a success in this line. Horace Walpole pointed out that of all branches of art, portrait painting was "the most ill-suited employment imaginable to a man whose turn certainly was not flattery, nor his talent adapted to look on vanity without a sneer.''3

    Odder still, his work as a portrait painter brought him into contact with the very type of patron he most despised, the connoisseur, the Englishman who not only imported into his country what Hogarth considered second-rate Italian pictures but who also patronized painters, designers, and architects influenced by the neo-Palladian doctrines of Lord Burlington. Of the men who sold such pictures, the artist wrote, "it is their Interest to depreciate every English Work, as hurtful to their Trade, of continually importing Ship Loads of dead Christs, Holy Families, Madona's [sic], and other dismal Dark Subjects, neither entertaining nor ornamental; on which they scrawl the terrible cramp Names of some Italian Masters, and fix on us poor Englishmen, the Character of Universal Dupes."4 And to Mrs. Piozzi he declared, "The connoisseurs and I are at war you know.''5

    The most conspicuous of these early patrons was Richard Child, Viscount Castlemaine (1680-1750), who commissioned The Assembly at Wanstead House in August 1728, Child was the son of the banker Sir Josiah Child (1630-1699), director of the East India Company. On the death of Richard's older brother he inherited his father's fortune and Jacobean house at Wanstead in Essex, eight miles northeast of London. Child, although possessing what one writer has labeled almost revolting wealth,"6 was still the son of a banker and his ambitions lay more in the direction of social advancement than toward the attainment of political power. With the death of Queen Anne in 1714 and the ascendency to the throne of the House of Hanover, all the power and most of the wealth in England was to be concentrated in the hands of the Whig supporters of the Hanoverian cause. Tories were driven from office, and Child, briefly a Tory, changed his allegiance to the Whigs.7 In return for his loyalty, or rather his lack of it, he was created Viscount Castlemaine in the Irish peerage in April 1718, and subsequently, in March 1731, by an act of Parliament, became Earl Tylney of Castlemaine. But already by 1715, three years before being raised to the peerage, Child had begun to build the traditional appendage to prestige and political power in England, a great country house.8

    For his architect he chose Colen Campbell (1676-1729), a young Scotsman who had arrived in London around 1712. As in the case of his patronage of Hogarth, we do not know how Child came to employ Campbell, and the fact that his architect was almost unknown can be seen either as an indication of the patron's enlightened taste or of his blind good luck in taking up an untried young professional. Campbell was the architect who was to be largely responsible for the revival of the Palladian style in England, and the house he built for Child, Wanstead, is of the first importance to historians of architecture in England in the eighteenth century.

    The chronology of the building of Wanstead can quickly be summarized. Dated 1713 is a first drawing with a plan for the main floor and an elevation of the west facade.9 In 1715 Campbell published the first volume of his Vitruvius Britannicus with both an unexecuted elevation for Wanstead and the design for the house as it was eventually built.10 By 1722 the exterior, sheathed in Portland stone, was complete, but work was carried on at Wanstead until Campbell's death in 1729. The finished house measured 260 feet long by 70 feet deep, with 58 bedrooms and at least 365 windows. According to Phillips, the cost was £360,000,11 and in John Steegman's phrase, Wanstead's "vastness was remarkable even in an age of vast houses."12 Still, although of a scale to match Chatsworth or Blenheim, Wanstead remained a suburban estate only a few miles from London, suitable for a man whose wealth came not from the land but from business interests in the city.

    If it is ironic that Castlemaine employed Hogarth of all artists to record the appearance of an Italianate, Palladian pile, it is more ironic still that the furniture and decorations in the house, although executed under the supervision of Campbell, were carried out by Campbell's associate William Kent (1685-1748). Kent, Burlington's protégé, executed the ceiling decoration of the great hall (The Four Times of Day: Morning, Noon, Evening, and Night), a work Walpole called "proof of his incapacity" as an artist 13 and he is said to have painted other rooms as well as to have designed some of the furniture there.14 Hogarth, who resented Kent's easy success with the aristocracy and court and had burlesqued his altarpiece at St. Clement Danes in London in a print published in October 1725, wrote after Kent's death: "Never was there a more wretched dauber.”15

    With this trio of connoisseur, architect, and hack artist, we have assembled a group who, to Hogarth, can only have been an anathema. As Walpole noted, Hogarth was not good at f1attery, and although his portraits of the Child family are straightforward enough, his rendering of the room in which they stand has been seen by Marks as a reflection of Hogarth’s true feelings about the taste of Lord Castlemaine.

    Plate 23 of Campbell's Vitruvius Britannicus is a plan of Wanstead. From it we can surmise that Hogarth shows us the ballroom (fromerly the library and two adjacent chambers), 75 feet long by 25 feet wide, on the east side of the house. The artist stood facing south so that we see the two great windows on the south (front) side of the house. A door to the left of the fireplace leads to the central part of the house. But as many writers, including Cornforth, Webster, and Marks, have pointed out, it would be a mistake to regard the room we see as a portrait of a real space with real furniture. No piece of furniture matching the ornate, gilded chairs and tables has come to light, nor do they seem to be based on actual designs by William Kent. Rather, we may assume that Hogarth, as would be consistent with his own stated working methods, painted the room and furniture from memory in his studio. Perhaps, as Marks believes, he exaggerated the pompous baroque trappings of the ballroom, but this may be the result of his attempt to re-create a strong general impression when back in his studio and not (at this stage in his career) a way of deliberately satirizing the taste of an influential patron. Marks also pointed out that the carved term of the fireplace behind Lord Castlemaine resembles the engraving of Kent after a portrait by William Aikman (1682-1731) and suggested that the inclusion of Kent's features petrified in wood or stone is Hogarth's gibe at Kent's petrified taste--but again, the painting was a commission for a private client and was never engraved, so Hogarth's subtle satire, if satire it was, would have been wasted. We must beware of treating The Assembly at Wanstead House as though it were a trial run for "The Rake's Progress."

    The scene is the ballroom of Wanstead House. The time is late afternoon; the Child family has gathered for tea drinking and card playing, while a servant, having already drawn one curtain on the sinking sun, now lights the chandeliers. The occasion depicted has never been identified, but the reason for the gathering of the Child family is not difficult to discover. On April 22, 1703, Richard Child married Dorothy, daughter of John and Dorothy Glynne (d. 1743/4) and together they had five children. Child commissioned this picture on August 28, 1729,16 thus it is possible that it records the celebrations for the twenty-fifth wedding anniversary of Lord and Lady Castlemaine of the previous year.

    At the far right Lord Castlemaine, dressed in rich red velvets, is seated on a gilded and carved X-framed chair. His daughter is next to him, raising a china teacup (still without a handle at this date) and a saucer. Next to them sits another daughter, offering to pour her father tea. At the other end of the room stand their three younger children, the youngest son astride a poodle at the left, the youngest daughter, Emma (in 1735 to marry Sir Robert Long), in the center, and John, the second son but first surviving male (1712-1784), on the right. John inherited the estate and title on February 19, 1733/4, when his older brother Richard, who may be the heavy-set young man seated at the card table in the center, died of smallpox. The lady in the exact center of the composition has been identified by Marks as Lady Castlemaine, and x-radiographs show that her face was originally much coarser and older. A close look at the features of the daughter sitting next to Lord Castlemaine and a three-way comparison among her, the lady in the center as seen in the x-radiographs, and the two little boys on the left of the composition show that they all bear a close family resemblance. We know from Vertue that Hogarth was known for his attention to ''an exact immitation of Natural likeness''; hence it is reasonable to suppose that this lady is the children's mother. Moreover, once we have noted the thick, ugly eyebrows of Dorothy Glynne Child, we can look through the assembled company and point to those relatives who are obviously related to the Castlemaines through the Glynne connection.

    If this is indeed the celebration of a wedding anniversary, several other motifs first discussed at length by Marks can be re-examined and explained as allusions to the devotion of the couple for each other. Lady Castlemaine shows her husband the ace of spades, the winning card, and so an allusion to their winning partnership. In front of them a pair of whippets flirt in a charming motif that parodies, in a favorite device of Hogarth's, the emotions of their human owners.18 Over the fireplace are two works of art alluding to classical examples of wifely fidelity, a painting by Godfried Schalcken (1634-1706), Portia Destroying Herself, in which the wife of Brutus swallows live coals at the news of her husband's death;19 and below stands a bust of Julia, the faithful wife of Pompey.20

    Behind the Castlemaines hangs a fragment of a tapestry identified as Telemachus Detained by Calypso, woven by the Leyniers factory in Brussels and bought by "Milord Chartelman" between 1724 and 1728.21 As Marks has pointed out, the glimpse we get shows the left-hand side of the tapestry, a group of music-making nymphs who by their introduction into this particular scene allude to the assembly as a garden of love, a fête galante. And, of course, Telemachus is the dutiful son of the faithful Penelope and wise Odysseus, themselves examples from Greek mythology of marital fidelity. On the other side of the fireplace is another tapestry, Alexander at the Battle of Granicus, after Charles Lebrun (1619-1690), and above in the painted ceiling we have the merest suggestion of an Olympian scene, probably a reflection of a ceiling painting actually at Wanstead, and if so, perhaps an allusion to Lord Castlemaine as a contemporary Jupiter.

    Hogarth has included twenty-five portraits and the figure of a servant in a canvas only 25 1/2 by 30 inches. Undoubtedly the commission necessitated a visit to Wanstead, where the artist may have painted several of the principal figures, and then perhaps a number of visits by the sitters to Hogarth's studio in Covent Garden over the next few years. The great number of portraits and the drudgery of fitting them all into the composition probably accounts for Hogarth's long delay in completing the work, for by January 1, 1731, it was still unfinished. The composition is, however, cleverly thought out. Three groups of principal figures are in the foreground plane. These consist of members of the immediate family and their closest relations, perhaps the brothers and sisters of Lord and Lady Castlemaine. Behind them, like a chorus in an opera, stand more distant relations and friends--one, at least, identifiable as a widow in mourning, who, because her face is cut off may herself have died before Hogarth could paint her. The total effect is in some ways monotonous (Jonathan Richardson wrote of this kind of conversation piece that the faces look like ''a great many single grapes scattered on a table");22 but given the problem, Hogarth makes a staid gathering relatively lively and elegant; and it was because of this ability that his early reputation was made.

    As early as 1730 the poet Joseph Mitchell could write in his "Poetical Epistle to Mr. Hogarth," certainly in reference to this picture, that ''Large Families obey your hand; Assemblies rise at your Command."23 But whatever the merits and the limitations of The Assembly at Wanstead House, it should be repeated that Hogarth was only beginning to work in this genre. A comparison between this painting and a composition executed around 1730, The Wollaston Family (40 3/8 x 49 3/4", Leicester, Museums and Art Gallery), shows that very soon Hogarth advanced perceptibly in his ability to break up a frieze-like composition into one that works in different planes of the picture surface.

    In the later 1740s Hogarth sketched a series of paintings that he intended as a sequel to "Marriage à la Mode," to be called "The Happy Marriage." One of these sketches, The Country Dance, Hogarth had engraved and used as an illustration for his Analysis of Beauty of 1753, plate II. John Ireland described this composition as The Wanstead Assembly and wrote that it contained portraits of the first Earl Tylney (Castlemaine) and his countess.24 He dated it 1728. The Country Dance has, therefore, occasionally been confused with the picture in Philadelphia.

    Richard Dorment, from British Painting in the Philadelphia Museum of Art: From the Seventeenth through the Nineteenth Century (1986), pp. 157-162.

    This entry is based largely on Arthur Marks's 1981 article in the Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 17, no. 332 (spring 1981), pp. 2-15.
    1. George Vertue. "The Note-Books of George Vertue Relating to Artists and Collections in England." The Walpole Society, 1933-1934 [Vertue Note Books, vol. 3], vol. 22 (1934), pp. 40-41.
    2. In Hogarth's own words: "Then maried and turnd Painter of Portraits in small conversation Peices and great success" (William Hogarth, The Analysis of Beauty with the Rejected Passages from the Manuscript’s Drafts and Autobiographical Notes, ed. Joseph Burke [Oxford, 1955], pp. 215-16).
    3. John Nichols and George Steevens. The Genuine Works of William Hogarth. 3 vols. London, 1808-17, vol. 1 (1808), pp. 19-20.
    4. Quoted by Ronald Paulson. Hogarth: His Life, Art, and Times. 2 vols. New Haven and London, 1971., vol. 1, p. 373; St. James's Evening Post, June 7-9, 1737.
    5. Hesther Lynch Piozzi, Anecdotes of the Late Samuel Johnson, ed. Arthur Sherbo (London and New York, 1974), p. 106; quoted by Joseph Burke, "Hogarth and Reynolds," The William Henry Charlton Memorial Lecture, November 1941 (Oxford and London, 194-3), p. 6.
    6. Winifred V. Phillips, Wanstead through the Ages, 2nd rev. ed. (London, 1949), p. 29.
    7. For Child, see the G. E. C[ockayne]. Complete Peerage. London, 1910-. vol. 2 (1913), p. 92; Romney Sedgwick, The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1715-1714 (London, 1970), vol. 1, p. 549.
    8. Mark Girouard, Life in the English Country House: A Social and Architectural History (New Haven and London, 1978), p. 2.
    9. John Harris, Colen Campbell, Catalogue of the Drawings Collection of the Royal Institute of British Architects (Farnborough, 1973), p. 16, no. 31.
    10. Colen Campbell, Vitruvius Britannicus. or the British Architect (London, 1715), vol. 1, pls. 21-27.
    11. Phillips (see note 6), p. 30.
    12. John Steegman, The Artist and the Country House (London and New York, 1949), p. 37.
    13. Quoted by Arthur S. Marks, ''Assembly at Wanstead House," Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin, vol. 77, no. 332 (spring 1981), p. 8.
    14. Ibid., p. 15, n. 25.
    15. Engraving, 11 1/8 x 7''. See Michael Kitson. "Hogarth's 'Apology for Painters.'" The Walpole Society, 1966-1968, vol. 41 (1968), pp. 86-87.
    16. Hogarth's "Account taken January first 1731 of all ye Pictures that Remain unfinish'd," ADD. MS., 27 995 f. I., British Museum, London.
    17. George Vertue. "The Note-Books of George Vertue Relating to Artists and Collections in England." The Walpole Society, 1933-1934 [Vertue Note Books, vol. 3], vol. 22 (1934), p. 41.
    18. As, for example, in The Marriage Contract, the first scene in "Marriage à la Mode."
    19. Cornel is Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century, 8 vols. (London, 1908-27), vol. 4 (1913), p. 335, no. 89. Sold at the Wanstead sale, June 20, 1822, lot 167.
    20. The bust of Julia appears again in the oil sketch of "A Rake’s Progress” (c. 1733, 24 1/4 x 29 1/4", Oxford, Ashmolean Museum). See Ronald Paulson. Hogarth: His Life, Art, and Times. 2 vols. New Haven and London, 1971, vol. 1, p. 374.
    21. See Heinrich Göbel, Tapestries of the Lowlands, trans. Robert West (New York, 1924), pl. 295, for the "Story of Telemachus" woven in Brussels by the Reydams-Leyniers-Konzern factory about 1725. Hogarth alters the figures on the left of the tapestry so drastically that it is probable he painted the tapestry from memory. See also Marthe Crick-Kuntziger, "The Tapestries in the Palace of Liege," The Burlington Magazine, vol. 50, no. 289 (April 1927), p. 177. Both sources cited originally by Marks.
    22. Jonathan Richardson, "The Theory of Painting," in The Works of Jonathan Richardson (Strawberry Hill, 1792), p. 55.
    23. Quoted by George Vertue. "The Note-Books of George Vertue Relating to Artists and Collections in England." The Walpole Society, 1933-1934 [Vertue Note Books, vol. 3], vol. 22 (1934), p. 48.
    24. John Ireland. Hogarth Illustrated. 2 vols. London, 1791, vol. 1, p. lxxv.

    John Ireland. Hogarth Illustrated. 2 vols. London, 1791, vol. 1, p. lxxv (confused with The Country Dance); John Ireland. A Supplement to Hogarth Illustrated; Compiled from His Original Manuscripts, in the Possession of John Ireland. Vol. 3 of Hogarth Illustrated. London, 1798. [containing Hogarth's Anecdotes of an Artist], p. 23; M. Pilkington. A Dictionary of Painters from the Revival of the Art to the Present Period. London, 1805, p. 248; John Nichols and George Steevens. The Genuine Works of William Hogarth. 3 vols. London, 1808-17, vol. 1 (1808), pp. 16, 45, vol. 2 (1810), pp. iv, 86, vol.3 (1817), p. 172; Horace Walpole. Anecdotes of Painting in England ... Collected by the Late Mr. George Vertue ... with Considerable Additions by the RCP. James Dallaway. [1765-71]. Rev. ed. 5 vols. London, 1828, vol. 4, p. l50; John Bowyer Nichols, ed. Anecdotes of William Hogarth Written by Himself. London, 1833. Reprint. London, 1970, pp. 122, 350, 376, and mistakenly on p. 196; John Trusler. The Works of William Hogarth; In a Series of Engravings; with Descriptions, and a Comment on Their Moral Tendency .. . To Which Are Added, Anecdotes of the Author and His Works, by J. Hogarth and J. Nichols. [1768]. Rev. ed. 2 vols. London, 1833, vol. 1, pp. 2-3; Allan Cunningham. The Lives of the Most Eminent British Painters. Rev. ed., annotated by Mrs. Charles Heaton. 3 vols. London, 1879, vol. 1, p. 67; Austin Dobson.William Hogarth. [1879]. 2nd ed., rev. London, 1907, pp. 21, 198, 310, and mistakenly on p. 196; William Roberts. "English Pictures in America." The Nineteenth Century, September 1913, p. 537; William Roberts, "Two Conversation Pieces of Hogarth," Art in America, vol. 1, no. 2 (April 1913), pp. 104-9, fig. 22; William Roberts. Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures Formed by John H. McFadden, Esq., of Philadelphia, Pa. London, 1917, pp. 27-28, repro. opp. p. 27; William Roberts. “The John H. McFadden Collection I.-Portraits." The Connoisseur, vol. 52 (November 1918), pp. 125-26, repro. p. 12.6; William Roberts. The Sharpe Family: A Conversation Piece by William Hogarth, London, 1920, p. 1; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. "The Inaugural Exhibition of the New Museum of Art Fairmount." The Pennsylvania Museum Bulletin, vol. 23, no. 119 (March 1928), p. 20; The Pennsylvania Museum Bulletin, vol. 24, no. 125 (February 1929), pp. 2, 19; The Pennsylvania Museum Bulletin, vol. 25, no. 129 (November 1929), pp. 7-9, repro. p. 6; Fiske Kimball, "Wanstead House, Essex.-I," Country Life, December 2, 1933, pp. 606-7, repro. p. 605; Frederick Antal, "Hogarth and His Borrowings," The Art Bulletin, vol. 29 (March 1947), p. 43 n. 26; R. B. Beckett. "Famous Hogarths in America." Art in America, vol. 36, no. 4 (October 1948), pp. 160-62, p. 161 fig. 1; Edgar P. Richardson, "Conversation for the Eye," Art News, vol. 4-7, no. 1 (March 1948), p. 35, repro. p. 35; R. B. Beckett. Hogarth. London, 1949., pp. 8, 46, pl. 32; Winifred V. Phillips, Wanstead through the Ages, 2nd rev. ed. (London, 1949), pp. 34, 36; Helen Comstock, ''Paintings as Documents, I, English Interiors as Seen in Conversation Pieces," Antiques, vol. 58, no. 5 (November 1950), pp. 366-67, repro. p. 367; Ralph Edwards, "Hogarth's Tea-Tables," The Burlington Magazine, vol. 93, no. 582 (September 1951), p. 304; John Gloag, Georgian Grace: A Social History of Design from 1660 to 1830 (London and New York, 1956), pp. 93, 100, 103, pl. 25; Frederick Antal. Hogarth and His Place in European Art. London and New York, 1962, pp. 36, 225-26 n. 26, pl. 28a; Baldini and Mandel, 1967, no. 37, pl. VII-VIII; Edward Croft-Murray, Decorative Painting in England, 1537-1837 (Feltham, Middlesex, 1970), vol. 2, p. 249; Ronald Paulson. Hogarth: His Life, Art, and Times. 2 vols. New Haven and London, 1971., vol. 1, pp. 212-13, 218, 225, p. 221 pl. 80; Ralph Edwards. "The Dumb Rhetoric of the Scenery.'' Apollo, n.s., vol. 95 (January 1972), pp. 14-16, 21, p. 15 fig. 1 (detail); M.J.H. Liversidge, "An Elusive Minor Master: J. F Nollekens and the Conversation Piece," Apollo, vol. 95 (January 1972), pp. 34, 41 n. 5, p. 34 fig. 2; Allen Staley. "British Painting from Hogarth to Alma Tadema." Apollo, n.s., vol. 100 (July 1974), p. 35; John Cornforth, "Painters and Georgian Interiors," Country Life, January 27, 1977, pp. 174-75; Jack Lindsay. Hogarth: His Art and His World. London, 1977. New York, 1979, p. 54; William Gaunt, The World of William Hogarth (London, 1978), repro. between pp. 22-23, no. 3; Ellis K. Waterhouse. Painting in Britain, 1530 to 1790. 4th ed. New York and Middlesex, 1978, p. 170; Beatrix Potter.The Journal of Beatrix Potter from 1881 to 1897 Transcribed from Her Code Writing by Leslie Linder. Rev. ed. London and New York, 1979, p. 135; Mary Webster. Hogarth. London, 1979, pp. 20-21, 34, repro. p. 34; Arthur S. Marks, "Assembly at Wanstead House," Philadelphia Museum Bulletin vol. 77, no. 332 (spring 1981), pp. 2-15.

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