Mobile menu

Explore the Exhibition

Johan Zoffany, The Tribuna of the Uffizi, 1772 - 1777

Johan Zoffany, The Tribuna of the Uffizi, 1772 - 1777 ©

The French word ‘conversation’–meaning a polite social gathering–had entered most European languages by the seventeenth century.

In Holland the word conversatie was used to describe a painting of a fashionable gathering, as well as the gathering itself. Similarly the ‘conversation piece’ describes a distinctive tradition within British art. The classic conversation piece is a group portrait of less than life-sized figures in a real setting, with some shared activity to bring the sitters together. This type of portraiture explores life-style and manners as well as individual character. In a simple portrait we are introduced to a person; in a conversation piece we seem to eavesdrop upon the lives of a family or society.

One or two paintings in this exhibition may be satirical; most consciously celebrate the prosperity, elegance and pleasure of fashionable life in Holland and England.