Recently hung in the eighteenth century gallery at the Fogg Museum is a family group by the English artist, Arthur Devis. The work is entitled Sir Josiah Vanneck and his Family.
The picture represents a type which is seldom seen here and is by an artist who is little known in America. Although Devis is usually thought of as one of the lesser lights of the eighteenth century, half way between Hogarth and Gainsborough, he is to collectors a well known but rare figure, and his pictures as a rule bring very good prices now.
For the most part Devis painted just such pictures as this one on view in the Fogg. In the middle of the eighteenth century this type had become more popular than portraits, for they suited better the prosperous middle class. To produce them, the painters--under Hogarth's lead--had turned for guidance to the earlier Dutch masters.
Devis himself had worked under a contemporary Dutchman, Tillemans, and from him he learned the characteristically small figures and this almost miniature technique. These groups were known as "conversation pieces," though in those of Devis the conversation has usually given way to pause. And the Vannecks especially seem withdrawn in silent contemplation.
Although the picture is placed near two fine Gainsboroughs and a portrait by Copley, yet it attracts much attention. The painting shows a most inviting scene, a well bred family party on their lawn by the river at twilight. As they look over a smooth bowling green towards some woods and a castle tower in the distance with the high evening sky above them, there is a sense of peace and comfort which pervades all.