Conversation piece

A conversation piece by Arthur Devis
Johann Zoffany, The Gore Family
Johann Zoffany paints a group of Englishmen in Rome for the Grand Tour, united only by their wealth and love of art; unlike most conversation pieces, this was not a commissioned work.

Conversation piece is a term for an informal group portrait, especially those painted in Britain in the 18th century, beginning in the 1720s. They are distinguished by their portrayal of the group apparently engaged in genteel conversation or some activity, very often outdoors. Typically the group will be members of a family, but friends may be included, and some groups are of friends, members of a society or hunt, or some other grouping. Often the paintings are relatively small, about the same size as a half-length portrait but in horizontal or "landscape" format; others are much larger.

The genre was developed from 17th century portraiture in the Low Countries, where many group portraits were painted, both of family groups and groups such as Governors or Regents of institutions, or militia officers. Frans Hals, Rembrandt and other artists had adopted a variety of poses to liven up the group portrait, for example the famous Night Watch. The name derives from the Italian term, also used in English, sacra conversazione for a similarly informal painting of the Virgin and Child with saints, a genre developed in the Renaissance.

There are many varieties of conversation piece. People may be portrayed sharing common activities such as hunts, meals, or musical parties. Dogs and/or horses are also frequently featured. Arthur Devis was a regional painter famous for his small conversation pieces, popular with the gentry of Cheshire. William Hogarth also worked in the genre, and parodied it in his print A Midnight Modern Conversation, which depicted a group of men whose conversation has degenerated into drunken incoherence. The German artist, settled in England, Johann Zoffany, specialized in complicated conversation pieces, and most portraits by George Stubbs take this form, with horses and carriages in the composition. Joshua Reynolds would on request produce conversation pieces in the Grand Manner, and at his usual near-life scale.

The phrase "conversation piece" later acquired a different meaning.[1] It came to refer to objects that were perceived to be interesting enough to spark conversation about them. They provide a stimulus for prop-based conversation openers. The original conversation pieces sometimes depicted a group united in conversation about an object, which would typically be an item linked to science or scholarship.

References

  • Mario Praz, Conversation Pieces: A Survey of the Informal Group Portrait in Europe and America (University Park and London: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999)

External links


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Look at other dictionaries:

  • conversation piece — n. 1. a type of genre painting, popular in the 18th cent., which shows a group of people in an appropriate setting 2. something, as an unusual article of furniture, that attracts attention or invites comment …   English World dictionary

  • Conversation piece — Una conversation piece por Arthur Devis …   Wikipedia Español

  • conversation piece — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms conversation piece : singular conversation piece plural conversation pieces an interesting or unusual object that attracts attention and makes people start talking about it …   English dictionary

  • Conversation Piece — Infobox Song Name =Conversation Piece Border = Caption = Type =B side of The Prettiest Star Artist =David Bowie alt Artist = Album = Published = Released =6 March 1970 Recorded = Genre = Length =3:05 Writer =David Bowie Label =Mercury Producer… …   Wikipedia

  • conversation piece — {n.} Something that interests people and makes them talk about it; something that looks unusual, comical, or strange. * /Uncle Fred has a glass monkey on top of his piano that he keeps for a conversation piece./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • conversation piece — {n.} Something that interests people and makes them talk about it; something that looks unusual, comical, or strange. * /Uncle Fred has a glass monkey on top of his piano that he keeps for a conversation piece./ …   Dictionary of American idioms

  • conversation\ piece — noun Something that interests people and makes them talk about it; something that looks unusual, comical, or strange. Uncle Fred has a glass monkey on top of his piano that he keeps for a conversation piece …   Словарь американских идиом

  • conversation piece — conver sation .piece n something that provides a subject for conversation often used humorously about objects that seem very strange or ugly …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • conversation piece —    or conversation galante    A portrait of a group of earnest people. Conversation galante is the original and French form of this term, often equivalent to or a variant of the fête galante, made popular by Watteau …   Glossary of Art Terms

  • conversation piece — noun Date: 1712 1. a painting of a group of persons in their customary surroundings 2. something (as a novel or unusual object) that stimulates conversation …   New Collegiate Dictionary


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