Gawen Hamilton

The Du Cane and Boehm Family Group


Not on display

Gawen Hamilton c.1698–1737
Oil paint on canvas
Support: 1016 × 1270 mm
frame: 1435 × 1634 × 190 mm
Purchased with assistance from the Art Fund, the Friends of the Tate Gallery and a group of donors 1999


This large and imposing group portrait, which celebrates the dynastic conjunction of the financially powerful Huguenot families of Du Cane and Boehm, is arguably Hamilton's finest. It was very likely commissioned by Richard Du Cane (1688-1641) as a visual demonstration of his family's success and future fortune, to which Hamilton has responded impressively. Born in Scotland but working in London by at least 1728, Hamilton was held in high regard by contemporaries. George Vertue (1683-1756), writing on Hamilton's death in 1737, praised his 'easy graceful likeness' and claimed that it was the opinion of several artists that in some instances he 'outdid Mr Hogarth'. Here, working at what must have been the peak of his artistic maturity, Hamilton comes very near to Hogarth (1697-1764), skillfully handling a composition of great complexity.

The Du Canes were a Huguenot family originally from the Spanish Netherlands, who in the late sixteenth century had fled to England to escape religious persecution. Likewise, the Boehms left Strasbourg and settled in London in the 1680s. Both families were powerful forces in the City, with extensive mercantile and financial interests (several members of both families were Directors of the Bank of England). In 1730 the families were united through the marriage of Jane Du Cane (b.1711) to Charles Boehm (1699-1769) and it is this dynastic alliance, and continuity, that the painting celebrates. Richard Du Cane stands in the centre of the picture, at the heart of what is a hierarchic composition. Above him, on the wall to either side, are ancestral portraits of his father Peter Du Cane and his mother Anne Booth (holding in her arms the infant Richard); slightly to his right is, most probably, his second son Richard; while below sit his daughter and son-in-law. At their feet is their heir, Clement, to whom his father points and to whom his mother is linked by a skein of thread. The distinguished figure, seated in black on the far right, is most likely a posthumous representation of Clement Boehm the Elder (1660-1734), the founder of the Boehm fortune in London. He holds a piece of paper dated 1734, probably his Will, which no doubt was to the positive benefit of the assembled crowd.

Directly above the group, surmounting the overmantel, are the married couple's armorial bearings (Boehm quartered with Dilke impaling Du Cane). They appear again on the very high quality carved and gilded frame, of contemporary 1730s English craftsmanship, possibly by a Huguenot craftsman. Richard Du Cane had taken great care to have the Du Cane arms anglicised and registered at the College of Arms in 1731, and the picture seems to stress his great pride in his family and its direct and demonstrable lineage.

It is unlikely that the space the sitters occupy is a real interior. The arms above the chimneypiece would indicate a Boehm property, either in London or Twickenham, although the portraits on the wall represent Du Canes. It is more likely an imagined space created by the artist, conjured to reflect the fashionable taste of his patron. Indeed, Hamilton has altered the décor, from an initial Palladian to a more up-to-date and dynamic Rococo (the straight edges of the frames of the ancestral portraits are still faintly visible below their new decoration). The extremely flamboyant overmantel is an elaborated version of the one Hamilton created for The Brothers Clarke of Swakeleys, circa 1730-5 (Yale Center for British Art).

Further reading:
Elizabeth Einberg, Manners & Morals: Hogarth and British Painting 1700-1760, exhibition catalogue, Tate Gallery 1987, nos. 62-5, pp.80-6.

Tabitha Barber
March 2001

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Display caption

This formal group portrait is a record of the dynastic union, through marriage, of the financially powerful Du Cane and Boehm families, both of Huguenot (exiled French Protestant) descent. Standing at the centre is Richard Du Cane, flanked by his family, including the couple whose marriage in 1735 united the two families: his daughter Jane and Charles Boehm. The portrait is among Hamilton’s most ambitious compositions and shows why contemporaries regarded him as a serious rival to William Hogarth.

Gallery label, February 2016

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Technique and condition

Hamilton’s The DuCane and Boehm Family Group has a support of a piece of finely woven tabby linen canvas. In either the late-nineteenth or the early-twentieth century it was lined by Morrill with animal glue onto plain linen canvas and nailed to a contemporary wooden stretcher. Examination of the painting's lower edge indicates that this was probably not the first lining, sometime during painting the original lower tacking edge was turned up to become part of the image and presumably it was held in plane by a lining, as there is no evidence of spare canvas to form a tacking edge. The old nail-holes along this edge were filled roughly before painting continued. This alteration might have been done to compensate for faulty measurement of the sight-size of the frame, which is original and very ornately carved and gilded and it would be quicker and cheaper to extend the painting by half an inch rather than dismantle and enlarge this frame. The lining has developed a slight buckle in each corner but is otherwise sound.

The oil-based priming is cool-toned, mid-grey. It is not present on the edge described above. In keeping with the predominant style of priming in the 1730s and 40s, the surface of the ground is textured with regular vertical striations, some two or three to a millimetre in width. There is a general network of age cracks but adhesion between the ground and the canvas is adequate.

After setting down the outlines of the architectural setting in dark paint or crayon, the artist appears to have laid in the basics of his composition in a sketchy fashion with a brush and a dark brown wash, which is visible with the microscope along the top edge. At an early stage of the process he made significant changes to the style of the interior decoration. The unaided eye can discern the linear outline of square-lobed, Palladian picture frames beneath the continental rococo mouldings and the central motif above the chimney piece was originally circular not oval. Again at an early stage, perhaps just after this, he began painting in a woman's figure to the right of the chimneypiece. Its shape and colour suggest that this was a false start for the woman finally seen entering from the right, although the scale of the pentimento is larger than in the final group. From here the painting appears to have progressed smoothly until the need for enlargement occurred towards its completion.

The paint is generally opaque and rather thin. It was worked up wet-in-wet with sprightly brushwork, small scale for the figures and broader in the background. An exception is the dark green curtain on the right, which appears to have been put in last with semi-translucent paint applied when the underlying composition had dried.

When the painting was acquired by Tate it had a natural resin varnish that had become yellow and patchy. This was removed in 1999 and replaced with MS2A varnish. Apart from a few very minor damages in the background the painting is in very fine condition.

Rica Jones
November 2001

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