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Images of poverty were widespread in the late -18th century, but tended to be prettified. Unusually, this picture shows a particular act of charity, and stresses the misery of the beggar. Art theorists argued that images of the poor that were too realistic would disgust people rather than encourage acts of charity. With some hypocrisy, the father of these children, Sir Francis Ford, who presumably commissioned the painting, was a plantation owner and a politician who actively supported slavery.

October 2013