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Scenes of rural poverty and philanthropic kindness were a feature of British art in the latter part of the 18th century. This painting is unusual in featuring identifiable contemporaries rather than generic figures. The well-dressed sitters are the children of Sir Francis Ford a wealthy plantation owner and politician. Facing calls for the abolition of the slave trade, pro-slavery campaigners would claim that the poor in England lived worse lives than slaves in the West Indies. This painting may well be intended to draw attention to that idea.

February 2016