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William Hogarth, the leading British painter of the early 18th century, was determined that his fellow artists should be seen as the equals of their European contemporaries. His paintings of such subjects as Marriage A-la-Mode were reproduced as commercially successful engravings, but his rich and subtle characterisation is most fully evident in the original paintings. Hogarth’s portraits also vividly demonstrate his skilful and economical painting technique, especially his images of colourful characters observed on the streets of London.

Joseph Wright of Derby, Thomas Gainsborough and George Stubbs all painted fashionable members of society in landscape settings. Such paintings might celebrate a union between two families and sometimes the consequent acquisition of land. Gainsborough’s portrait of his family follows a conventional format but in depicting his daughters, for example, he showed off a new creative freedom. His extraordinarily assured painting technique conveys a directness and sympathy for his subject.