Publications and Research

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2012


During the late 1720s and early 1730s, a new type of portrait painting, called the conversation piece, became fashionable in England. This article will trace the origin and evolution of the term "conversation piece" from its earliest appearance in the English language to the present. First used in English for genre pictures in the Dutch tradition as well as Watteau's fetes galantes, the term was adopted for small-scale group portraits around 1730 when this type of portraiture became popular. Long after the rise of the portrait conversation, the term continued to be used for genre pictures. The use of the term to mean only a small-scale painting of a portrait group is a 20th-century invention.


This work was originally published in British Art Journal.



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