The Berger Collection

Thomas Hudson (1701-1779)
The Radcliffe Family, ca. 1742
Oil on canvas
126 x 174 in. (320 x 442 cm)

This painting shows the family of Walter Radcliffe (1693-1752) and his wife Admonition, who lived in Devonshire, in the southwest of England. In 1741 the Radcliffes bought a splendid new home, Warleigh House near Plymouth, Devon. The Radcliffe Family was probably commissioned to celebrate the purchase.

The painting, one of Hudson's largest, is made up of sixteen pieces of canvas. Hudson would have first worked out the overall composition in preliminary sketches, and then would have made repeated visits to Warleigh to paint the family separately or in small groups. Back in his London studio, he would have concentrated on painting the faces, while another artist, probably Joseph van Aken, would have painted the drapery and clothes.

The baby boy perched upon his mother's knee is William, who was born around a year before the painting was produced. He was killed in action at the battle of Warburg, Westphalia, in 1760. Walter, who holds the baby's hand, inherited the family estate as the eldest surviving son when his father died in 1752. He was to be the archetypal eighteenth-century gentleman, making the Grand Tour of Europe, maintaining a house in London, and sitting twice to Sir Joshua Reynolds; he died unmarried in 1803. Jasper, the little drummer boy wearing a bright blue suit, died when he was still a schoolboy; Joanna, to his left, married a local man.

The group on the left of the picture, the two sisters, Mary and Jane, hugging each other at the back, also both married respectable local men. In front of them, holding the tambourine and playing with the dog, is the lively young Admonition, who died of smallpox as a child; her brother John, who has his hand on her shoulder, inherited the family estate upon Walter's death in 1803. Like his elder brother, he died unmarried. Nearest the father, Anne Grace, the eldest daughter, remained a spinster and lived her whole life at Warleigh. It is on the whole a rather sad history for such and exuberant and optimistic-looking family.


By descent in the Radcliffe family until sold under the terms of the Radcliffe Chattels Settlement; Sotheby's, London, November 13, 1996, lot 52


Literature: E. Miles, "Thomas Hudson (1701-1779), Portraitist to the British Establishment," Yale University, unpublished doctoral thesis, 1976, p. 215; E. Waterhouse, Painting in Britain 1530 to 1790, 1978, p. 201; E. Waterhouse, The Dictionary of British 18th-Century Painters, 1981, p. 185; B. Allen, The British Portrait 1660-1960, 1991, pp. 149 and 158, pl. 27

Exhibited: On loan to National Trust, Dyrham Park, Bath, U.K.

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