Art Term

Conversation piece

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

Philip Mercier, ‘The Schutz Family and their Friends on a Terrace’ 1725
Philip Mercier
The Schutz Family and their Friends on a Terrace 1725
Tate

Sitters are shown interacting with each other or with pets, taking tea or playing games. Conversation pieces were very different from the more formal court or grand style portrait.

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.

Related Terms and Concepts

  • Court

    Court painters were artists employed by royal courts to paint portraits of the royal family and their courtiers

  • Grand manner

    Grand manner is an English term used widely from the eighteenth century to describe what was considered to be the ...

  • Portrait

    A portrait is a representation of a particular person. A self-portrait is a portrait of the artist by the artist

Explore this term

Selected artists in the collection

Selected artworks in the collection