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Small-scale group portraits like this, known as ‘conversation pieces’, projected an idealised vision of family life. This picture employs a pyramidal arrangement of the figures to express the structure of the family. Thomas Bradshaw (1733–74), a senior civil servant and politician, is shown at the apex of the pyramid. His family is arranged below him. The two women are Bradshaw’s wife, Elizabeth on the right, and, on the left, probably his sister. The two oldest sons are shown at the far left and right of the group. Their position in the composition serves to associate them both with the sheltered space of the family unit, and the outside world.

February 2016