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Governor Horatio Sharpe and the Sharpe Family

The Sharpe Family

Artist: Unknown artist, English
Title: The Sharpe Family
Date: c. 1753
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 58 x 71"
Accession number: MSA SC 1545-1212

Governor Horatio Sharpe was provincial governor of Maryland from 1753 to 1768. During his tenure as governor, he rented Jennings House, which stood on land that is now part of the U.S. Naval Academy and became the home of Maryland's governors until the present Government House was built in 1870. Governor Sharpe also built Whitehall, one of the finest Georgian homes in the country, as his private residence. Whitehall was designed by Joseph Horatio Anderson, who was also the architect of the Maryland State House.

In this group family portrait, called a "conversation portrait," fifteen figures are depicted. Governor Sharpe is the second figure from the left, wearing a scarlet waistcoat. In addition, three other figures have been identified as Sharpe's brothers Joshua, William, and Gregory. (Joshua is the figure on the far left leaning on the chair; William is fifth from the left holding a snuffbox; and Gregory is in clerical dress.) The painting was once installed as a panel in the dining room of Brockley Hall, the family home of William Sharpe (Horatio's brother).

This unsigned portrait has been the subject of much study in the past with regard to its attribution, and for many years was published as the work of the great English artist William Hogarth (1697-1764). Exhibited throughout England during the first half of the twentieth century as a Hogarth, the date of the painting was generally believed to be circa 1753, just before the departure of Horatio Sharpe to take up his duties in Maryland. The painting was offered for sale to the State of Maryland by the Vose Galleries of Boston in 1951. Dorothy Byron Lane, wife of Governor William Preston Lane, paid for its purchase out of a surplus in the Government House household account. At that time, when many Hogarth attributions were being reevaluated, The Sharpe Family was attributed to Gawen Hamilton, a contemporary of Hogarth also known for his conversation portraits. However, in 2014, the painting was attributed to Arthur Devis, pending further research.

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