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William Hogarth: 'The Graham Children'

This is Hogarth's most ambitious portrait of children. He gives the figures in this large painting something of the same frank grandeur found in his portraits of adults, without losing a sense of childish gaiety.

The Grahams' father, Daniel, was Apothecary to the King. The seated boy plays a mechanical organ, as though accompanying the singing of the bird. The youngest child is sitting in a chair with a long handle, beside which is an elaborate basket of fruit.

However, the clock on the mantelpiece is decorated with the figure of Cupid holding a scythe and standing beside an hour-glass, symbols of death. Opposite, an animated cat has climbed the back of a chair and gazes at the caged bird. We know that the baby was dead when the portrait was painted, and this must account for the sombre references to mortality, at a time when many children died in infancy.


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