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Cincinnati Art Museum acquires eighteenth-century conversation piece by Nathaniel Dance
Nathaniel Dance, A Portrait of Sir James and Lady Hodges, their sons John, James and Henry, and their daughters Mary and Elizabeth, circa 1766. Oil on canvas. 56 1/4 x 61 1/4 inches (143 x 155.5 cm.). Museum Purchase: John J. Emery Endowment, The Edwin and Virginia Irwin Memorial, Fanny Bryce Lehmer Endowment, Mr. and Mrs. Harry S. Leyman Endowment, and Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Walter J. Wichgar

CINCINNATI, OH.- The Cincinnati Art Museum has just acquired an incredibly impressive British conversation piece to add to its European art collection.

This tremendous painting entitled “Portrait of Sir James and Lady Hodges, their sons John, James and Henry, and their daughters Mary and Elizabeth”, (The Hodges Family) by Nathaniel Dance, later Sir Nathaniel Dance-Holland (London 1735-1811 Winchester) was painted circa 1766 after the artist’s return from Pompeo Batoni’s studio in Rome. This grandiose oil on canvas is displayed in an eighteenth-century carved and gilded Carlo Maratta frame. The piece is now on display.

Acquired from the Richard Green Gallery in London, the group portrait depicts a happy, affectionate, and prosperous family. The Cincinnati Art Museum’s Curator of European Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture, Dr. Esther Bell pursued this masterpiece for acquisition for many reasons, including the virtuoso handling of paint, the dynamic composition, and the handsome sophistication with which Dance imbued the sitters. The conversation piece is vividly animated in many clever details, such as in James Hodge’s Jr., seated in the foreground in a dashing blue velvet suit, whose pigtail whips around as he turns his head to greet a ‘visitor entering the room’.

The painting is in exceptional condition in large part because it remained in the family for over two centuries. Showcasing the warm and informal atmosphere of a loving family, The Hodges Family embodies the classic “conversation piece” genre. These works depicted families or groups of friends in the informal moments of the day—a walk in the countryside, the post-dinner entertainment, a parlor gathering. Conversation pieces were used to establish reputations among aristocratic patrons, yet also gained popularity in the mid to late 18th century among the middle class.

Nathaniel Dance, son of architect George Dance, trained with Francis Hayman in London before settling in Rome for about twelve years. While in Rome, Dance worked in the studio of fashionable portraitist Pompeo Batoni. The Hodges Family conveys Batoni’s strong influence in its sensuous textures, vibrant coloring and depictions of luxurious materials such as velvet and porcelain.

This thrilling acquisition has been made possible by the following; The John J. Emery Endowment, The Edwin and Virginia Irwin Memorial, Fanny Bryce Lehmer Endowment, Mr. and Mrs. Harry S. Leyman Endowment and Bequest of Mr. and Mrs. Walter J. Wichgar.

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