'Juvenile Retirement' - The Douglas Children

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The Douglas Children, or 'Juvenile Retirement' is a painting in the Rotheschild Collection.

Exhibited at the Royal Academy Exhibition in 1795 along with nine other works by John Hoppner, this popular portrait evidences the artist's approach to his new-found success. His sensitivity to the demands of his patron is combined both with the use of an earlier composition but also an attention to detail that obscures the amount of work Hoppner took on in this year.

Made an academician just two years before, the 1795 exhibition marked Hoppner's arrival as the leading painter of the day. Commenting on this painting, a newspaper critic praised Hoppner for the natural and graceful grouping of his sitters as well as the sweetness and charm of the faces and colours. The portrait was engraved by J Ward in 1796 and given the title of 'Juvenile Retirement'.

Four children of the Earl of Morton, typical of the titled clients Hoppner had come to attract, react differently to posing sedately for a formal portrait. The patron, John Douglas, was the second son of James Douglas, the 14th Earl of Morton and his wife, Frances Lascelles, was the eldest daughter of Edward, Earl of Harewood. Standing on the right, carefully balancing a magnificent plumed bonnet on his head, is George Sholto, who succeeded his cousin as 17th Earl of Morton in 1827. His older sister, Frances is calmly seated to the left. Harriet kneels behind her, turning to laugh at the baby Charles, sitting with a somewhat surly expression in the centre. All but one of the children stare out at the viewer, no doubt at the request of the Earl.

George's pose is taken from Hoppner’s oldest son in the portrait of his own children made in 1791 (National Gallery of Art, Washington (acc. no. 1942.9.35). Hoppner’s children are more immersed in the landscape, they are about to bathe in a stream at the edge of a wood and only the eldest looks out. In contrast, details in the lush trees and sky behind the Douglas children simply echo details of the figures, such as George's plumed hat. The backdrop does little to detract from the masterly rendition of each childs’ expression.

Despite his large number of commissions from prestigious families, Hoppner did not employ assistants or rush his work. A number of visible changes in this composition (known as pentimenti), as well as the application of paint in several layers in the background landscape, indicates Hoppner took time to develop and adapt his composition to the best possible effect.

Commissioned by John Douglas (b.1756, d.1818); by descent to his son, the sitter, George Sholto Douglas, 18th Earl of Morton (b.1789, d.1858); by descent to his grandson Sholto George Douglas, 19th Earl of Morton (b.1844, d.1935); bought in 1901 via Agnew's from 19th Earl of Morton by Nathaniel Mayer Rothschild, 1st Baron Rothschild (b.1840, d.1915) for £10,500 and two pictures; inherited by his wife Lady Emma Louisa von Rothschild (b.1844, d.1935); then to a Rothschild Family Trust.

Exhibition history
Royal Academy, London, 1795, no. 58
'British Painting in the Eighteenth Century', The British Council, The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the National Gallery of Canada, The Art Gallery of Toronto, The Toledo Museum of Art, 1957-58, no. 51

Waddesdon (Rothschild Family)
On loan since 1998

Person as Subject
Morton, George Sholto Douglas, 18th Earl of (b.1789, d.1858)
Douglas, Charles (b.1791, d.1857)
Douglas Stewart, Frances (b.1786, d.1833)
Douglas Hamilton, Harriet (b.1792, d.1833)

On display in:
East Sitting Room, Waddesdon Manor, Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire



Sources for this article include:
•  Rothschild Foundation

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Last modified: Friday, 17 May 2024