Famous Hogarth Painting Returns To Ickworth House

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 12 September 2007
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a group painting showing six men in a garden all wearing frock coats and wigs, one wears a tricorn hat and one is dressed as a priest and holds a telescope to his eye

William Hogarth, The Hervey Conversation Piece. © NTPL

A famous painting by William Hogarth has returned to the Bristol Collection at the National Trust’s Ickworth House, Suffolk, after a lengthy European Tour.

The Hervey Conversation Piece was painted as a humorous group portrait for John, Lord Hervey of Ickworth by Hogarth in about 1740. It is a brilliant example of one of the artist’s conversation pieces and shows an eccentric group of gentlemen in a country garden.

Hogarth’s conversation pieces were some of his most complex and celebrated works. A typically 18th century convention in British art, the paintings usually depicted small groups – a gathering of friends or aristocrats – having a conversation. They also often included hidden details (generally something amusing or unexpected) within the painting.

Accordingly, the painting seems like a conventional group portrait but on closer inspection it is full of Hogarthian mischief. In one corner a precariously perched priest is about to fall off his chair into a lake – with the aid of a poke from a seated gentleman’s walking stick.

The painting has been on loan since October 2006 as a centrepiece in Tate Britain’s Hogarth exhibition, which opened in London earlier this year. It then went on tour with the exhibition to the Musée du Louvre in Paris as well as the CaixaForum in Madrid.

“It’s great to finally have all of the Bristol Collection back in place at Ickworth,” said House Steward, Jo Lister. “It has certainly been a busy year for us here, with objects coming and going. Everyone was so excited by the return of this painting that staff and volunteers from around the property came to have a look, when it was finally back in its rightful place.”

Visitors can now see the painting for themselves, on display in the ‘Smoking Room’ at Ickworth, along with other paintings in the Bristol Collection. Ickworth House is open Fridays to Tuesdays 1pm to 5pm.

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