A conversation piece is an informal group portrait popular in the eighteenth century, small in scale and showing people – often families, sometimes groups of friends – in domestic interior or garden settings
Introduction to conversation piece
They seem to have evolved early in the eighteenth century to meet the demand from the new middle classes, although also gained aristocratic and royal patrons. Probably introduced in Britain by Philip Mercier about 1725 and popularised by William Hogarth, then Arthur Devis, this style of portrait became highly fashionable with the artist Johan Zoffany.
In this short film below, historian Zareer Masani discusses the conversation piece Johan Zoffany’s, Colonel Mordaunt’s cock match, 1784–6. He explains the importance of this painting due to its depiction of informal and relaxed cultural mixing between Indians and Europeans.
A very exciting conversation piece for its time.
Historian Zareer Masani