This painting is one of only four known conversation pieces by Thomas Bardwell, all dated to between 1736 and 1740. Seated by the table in Bardwell's painting is Philip Broke of Nacton (1702-1762), MP for Ipswich, and his mother-in-law Elizabeth Thurland, widow of Martin Bowes of Bury St Edmunds. Broke's wife Ann and daughter Elizabeth stand to the left, while Ann's two unmarried sisters are shown to the right, one of whom holds a letter addressed 'To Mrs Bowes of Bury'. The empty picture frame depicted on the wall behind the figures echoes the painting's own original Kentian frame, a visual conceit suggesting that the family is waiting for Bardwell's group portrait to be hung in their parlour. This painting was included in the 1987 Tate exhibition 'Manners and Morals: Hogarth and British Painting 1700-1760', curated by Elizabeth Einberg.
Thomas Bardwell, portraitist, decorative painter and writer, was born in East Anglia. He is first recorded producing decorative painting in 1728, shortly before settling at Bungay in Suffolk and running a decorative painting firm. Between 1729 and 1741, he painted overmantels and views of country houses, as well as conversation pieces. In 1741 Bardwell painted Lord Rochford, a Suffolk peer, to whom he dedicated his book ‘The Practice of Painting and Perspective Made Easy’ (1756). In 1752/3 Bardwell made a visit to Scotland, where he painted a number of portraits. By 1759 he had settled in Norwich and developed a successful practice. He died in Norwich in September 1767.
Presumably commissioned by Philip Broke; by descent to Captain Sir Philip Bowes Vere Broke (1776-1841); Philip Broke’s grandson); by descent to Jane Broke (Philip Broke’s granddaughter), wife of James, 4th Baron Saumarez; thence by descent; sold through Sotheby's, London, 'Important British Pictures' sale, on 12 June 2003 (Lot 6); from which sale purchased by the Government Art Collection
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