These are the four Graham children. Their father was Royal Apothecary to George I and George II. Thomas, in his gilded baby carriage adorned with a bird, had already died when Hogarth was working on the picture. The crossed carnations (funeral flowers) beside him are a tender reminder of death. A table-clock surmounted by a winged cherub holding an hour-glass and scythe shows the time as 1.45pm, perhaps the hour Thomas died.
Seated beneath a goldfinch in a gilded cage, Richard Robert plays a bird organ and Anna Maria starts dancing. The cat startles the goldfinch by scrambling with its claws up the back of the chair in the same way that death suddenly snatched the youngest Graham child. Henrietta, the eldest, dangles cherries, the ‘fruit of paradise’ before baby Thomas, who reaches out to grasp them. Hogarth captures the transience of childhood and of life itself.
These are the four children of Daniel Graham (1695–1778) by his second wife, Mary Crisp. In order of age they are Henrietta Catherine (aged 9), Richard Robert (aged 7), Anna Maria (aged 5) and Thomas the baby in a gilded carriage decorated with a bird. They are portrayed at home at 11 Pall Mall, London. Their father was Royal Apothecary to King George I and King George II and was very prosperous.
In this very large picture – one of the largest Hogarth ever painted – the Graham children are portrayed life-size. At first sight they seem to be merrily at play, with high spirits and evident health. There are no conventional toys here. Instead, Hogarth uses various objects to tell us about the children and about the nature of childhood itself.
The extravagant baby carriage has a carved and gilded bird upon its handle, which perhaps flapped its wings when the carriage was pulled along. Beside the carriage is an elaborate silver dish full of fruit. Thomas, the seemingly lively baby, had already died while Hogarth was working on the picture. His death may have been the reason the portrait was commissioned. Hogarth drew a chalk study of the baby’s features after death from which to work (British Museum, London). In the painting, Thomas clutches a partly nibbled rusk and reaches out to grasp the cherries in his sister’s hand, which traditionally symbolise the fruit of paradise. The silver basket of fruit and the crossed carnations (funeral flowers) beside the baby’s chariot become a tender memento mori, a reminder of death. A table-clock surmounted by a winged cherub holding an hour-glass and scythe – symbols of death – shows the time to be about 1.45pm, maybe the hour Thomas died.
Seated beneath a goldfinch in its gilded cage, Richard Robert balances a bird organ on his knee and little Anna Maria starts dancing, holding out her pretty silk brocade skirts. This type of small domestic barrel organ was a device used to teach caged birds to sing. The side of the box is decorated with a scene of Orpheus with his lyre. In ancient Greek myth, Orpheus attempted to retrieve Eurydice from the underworld with his music – reminding us of lost baby Thomas. The goldfinch is a traditional symbol of Christ’s Passion, and here also a metaphor for baby Thomas in his gilded carriage. The cat startles the goldfinch by scrambling with its claws up the back of the chair in the same way that death suddenly snatched one of the Graham children from their wealthy home. The goldfinch and cherries express the hope for Thomas’s resurrection through Christ. Only the Almighty and Hogarth – through the immortalising power of portraiture – can bring the baby ‘back to life’.
Henrietta, the eldest child, guides her lost baby brother’s hand towards the cherries. Her long muslin apron tucked over her arm falls in a long s-curve embodying Hogarth’s ‘line of beauty.’ She later married at 19 and had seven children of her own. Hogarth captures the transience of childhood and of life itself in this charming and moving portrait.
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