Stephen Slaughter, the supposed painter of this small group portrait, or 'conversation piece', was an exact contemporary of William Hogarth (1697-1764). Indeed, the earliest recorded owner of this picture, Mathew Raper (1741-1826), vice President of the Society of Antiquaries and a Director of the Bank of England, was quite certain that it was by Hogarth. However, while his attribution has since proved to be incorrect, Raper did provide valuable information on the identity of the sitters.
In the centre of the picture, seated, holding her granddaughter, is Mrs Betts. To the left, dressed in orange and holding a floral riband, is her eldest-surviving daughter, Anne Betts. At the extreme right hand side, in a blue dress, is her youngest daughter, Rebecca, behind whom stands her husband, Edmund Anguish. It is their baby daughter, Anne (c.1745-1824), who sits in Mrs Betts's lap, and who in later life became the wife of the above mentioned Mathew Raper. It is also her approximate date of birth (she died in 1824, aged 79), that provides the suggested date of 1746 for the present picture.
At the extreme left of the picture, seated cross-legged, is Dr Benjamin Hoadly (1706-57), son of the Bishop of Winchester, royal physician and dramatist. In his hand Hoadly holds a miniature of his deceased first wife, Elizabeth Betts, sister of Anne and Rebecca, whom he had married in 1733. The date of Elizabeth Betts's death is unknown, although it must have been before June 1747, when Hoadly remarried. As Elizabeth Einberg has noted (Einberg 1983, p.416), the miniature held by Hoadly bears more than a passing resemblance to a bust-length portrait by Hogarth, thought to represent Elizabeth Hoadly (maiden name Betts), and which has been dated 1743. In any event, Hogarth was a good friend of the Hoadly family and painted their portraits on several occasions, the principal reason, it may be supposed, that the present picture was also attributed to him. Indeed, it has been suggested (Einberg and Egerton 1988, p.208) that the image of Dr Hoadly in the present portrait was not painted directly from life but from a head-and-shoulders portrait of him by Hogarth (Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales).
In the nineteenth century the picture passed from Mathew Raper, who had no children of his own, to his nephew, who died in 1849 at his home in Hyde Park. It then passed to Mrs Anne Sealy, who bequeathed it to the National Gallery in 1879 as 'The Hoadly Family in Hyde Park' by Hogarth. It was transferred to the Tate Gallery in 1919, where it was described simply as 'British School'. Elizabeth Einberg disclosed the real identity of the sitters and provided the present attribution to Stephen Slaughter in 1983.
Although the attribution to Stephen Slaughter is by no means definite, his known portraits, as Einberg remarks, 'exhibit the same dry linear style, fussiness over small features … a somewhat naïve sense of perspective, combined with meticulous attention to detail' (Einberg 1983, p.416).
Elizabeth Einberg, 'The Betts Family: A lost Hogarth that never was', The Burlington Magazine, vol.125, 1983, pp.415-16, fig.30
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth. British Painters born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery 1988, pp.207-8, reproduced in colour