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'A Conversation of the Kings Arms'

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'A Conversation of the Kings Arms'

by Gawen Hamilton
oil on canvas, 1735
34 1/2 in. x 43 7/8 in. (876 mm x 1115 mm)
Purchased, 1904
Primary Collection
NPG 1384

Artistback to top

Sittersback to top

This portraitback to top

Painted in 1734-5 to 'promote his interest' (the completed picture was raffled, each sitter paying four guineas). Grouped round Matthew Robinson, amateur draughtsman and father of Elizabeth Montagu, the blue-stocking, are some of the leading artists and architects of the 1730s, who used to meet at the King's Arms in New Bond Street, London.

From the left:
George Vertue, antiquary and engraver, 1683-1756, who described the picture in his Notebooks.
Hans Hysing, portrait painter, 1678-1753
Michael Dahl (seated), portrait painter, 1659-1743
William Thomas, antiquary, circa 1677-1764
James Gibbs, architect, 1682-1754
Joseph Goupy, watercolour painter, 1689-1769, who won the picture when raffled in 1735
Matthew Robinson (seated), amateur artist, circa 1694-1778, whose family later owned the picture
Charles Bridgeman, landscape gardener, died 1738
Bernard Baron, engraver, 1696-1762
John Wootton, landscape painter, circa 1682-1765
John Michael Rysbrack, sculptor, 1694-1770
Gawen Hamilton, painter of the picture, circa 1697-1737
William Kent, architect, 1685-1748 More detailed information on this portrait is available in a National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue, John Kerslake's Early Georgian Portraits (1977, out of print).

Linked publicationsback to top

  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Gibson, Robin, The Face in the Corner: Animal Portraits from the Collections of the National Portrait Gallery, 1998, p. 36
  • Ingamells, John, Later Stuart Portraits 1685-1714, 2009, p. 67
  • Kerslake, John, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, p. 340
  • Piper, David, Catalogue of Seventeenth Century Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, 1625-1714, 1963, p. 101
  • Rideal, Liz, Insights: Self-portraits, 2005, p. 48 Read entry

    Hamilton (wearing a blue cap) specialised in conversation pieces and this is his best-known work in the genre. When completed, the painting was raffled to the artist subscribers. Michael Dahl is seated third from the left.

  • Robin Gibson, Pets in Portraits, 2015, p. 62 Read entry

    The man in the dark coat holding a book, on the left of this group of early eighteenth-century British artists, is the noted engraver and antiquary George Vertue, to whom we owe all we know about this picture and almost everything that is known about its artist, Gawen Hamilton. Vertue described the painting as a ‘Conversation of Virtuosis that usually meet at the Kings Armes. New bond Street a noted Tavern.’ It includes painters like Michael Dahl and John Wootton, architects like James Gibbs and William Kent and the sculptor John Michael Rysbrack. All the figures are named on the painting except the only one in working clothes, Hamilton himself, who is the gaunt figure in a cap on the right behind the bust. Born in Scotland around 1697, he came to London in about 1730 and became William Hogarth’s chief rival as a painter of small-scale portrait groups like this one, known as conversation pieces. This probably explains Hogarth’s absence from the painting, though in any case the rivalry was short-lived, for Hamilton died young two years later.

    There is no evidence for ownership of what looks like a spaniel sleeping peacefully in the foreground, though Hamilton’s stylistic trademarks include the almost invariable presence of a dog in the front of his portraits as well as the slightly rucked carpet, which appears to be not quite attached to the floor. It is tempting to suppose that the dog belonged to the ageing Swedish painter Michael Dahl, at whose feet it is sleeping, or even to Hamilton himself, though he stands a long way off. If identifiable at all, a more likely explanation, especially since the grandiose background seems most unlikely to represent a pub of any sort, is that it belonged to the landlord of the ‘Kings Armes’ and as such would have been instantly recognisable not only to everyone in the painting but also to all other habitués of that ‘noted Tavern’.

  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 712
  • Simon, Jacob, The Art of the Picture Frame: Artists, Patrons and the Framing of Portraits in Britain, 1997 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 8 November 1996 - 9 February 1997), p. 44, 157 Read entry

    Carved and gilt pine, mitred and keyed, cross-hatched ground, burnished water gilding, partly renewed (perhaps when the frame was restored by Wiggins in 1956), over a deep plum bole on the hollow and gadrooning of the back edge, the flat scrolls, fillets, flat parts of the shells, heights of the flowers and sight-edge leaf. 5 3⁄ 4 inches wide.

    Gawen Hamilton's portrait of himself and his fellow artists at the King's Arms in New Bond Street was raffled for his benefit in 1735 when it was won by Joseph Goupy.1 The painting is said to have been sold by Goupy to his patron, Frederick Prince of Wales, but in all probability it was retained by Goupy since it appeared in his sale in 1765. The frame is undoubtedly the original and, if not chosen by Hamilton before the raffle, it would have been arranged by Goupy afterwards, perhaps with a view to a sale to the Prince of Wales, who was known for his taste in elaborate frames. Whoever had the frame made, the result is exceptionally heavy for a picture of this size: English but in the French manner with strongly modelled centres and corners and of very fine quality despite the later refinishing of the surface.

    1 John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, pp 340-2. See also Jacob Simon, 'New Light on Joseph Goupy (1689-1769)', Apollo, vol.CXXXIX, February 1994, pp 15-18, and Ilaria Bignamini, 'George Vertue, Art Historian, and Art Institutions in London, 1689-1768', Walpole Society, vol.LIV, 1991, pp 29-30.

Placesback to top

Events of 1735back to top

Current affairs

Second Parliament under George III. Robert Walpole maintains a substantial majority. Lord Bolingbroke gives up active opposition to Walpole and retires to France. Walpole moves into 10 Downing Street.
Welsh Methodist revival begins.

Art and science

Celebrated dandy Richard 'Beau' Nash appoints himself Master of Ceremonies at Tunbridge Wells.
William Hogarth founds the second St Martin's Lane Academy of Painting.
Lawyer and amateur meteorologist George Hadley publishes the first explanation of the trade winds


Swedish naturalist Carolus Linnaeus publishes a 'system of nature', capable of classifying all living things.
Swedish chemist Georg Brandt discovers a new metallic element, which he names cobalt.
A revivalist movement in America, led by Jonathan Edwards, becomes known as the Great Awakening.
Composer Johann Sebastian Bach debuts his Ascension Oratorio in Leipzig.

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