Help us decide what we hang at Tate Britain!

What matters to you about family? Do you feel that your family life is represented in art?

Next year Tate Britain is going to host a Great British Art Debate display called Family Matters, looking at representations of the family in British art. We’re also going to have a little taster of the display to whet your appetite, which will be on show from 21 November this year until May 2012.

Here’s where you come in. We have a space at Tate Britain for this ‘taster’, where we’ll show 4 works that address the theme of Family Matters. Nominate one artwork from our collection, and tell us why it means family to you. The exhibition team will then choose their favourite images and comments, which will be displayed together on the walls of Tate Britain!

We’ve created a handy slideshow of works that include family themes for you to look through, and there are some examples below. (The slideshow uses a test version of Art & Artists, our new collection exploring tool – if you have any comments or spot any bugs you’ll be helping us to refine it, so pop them along as well!)

Tabitha Barber, Curator of 17th & 18th Century British Art, will be reviewing all of your ideas. She says, “I’m intrigued to see what our facebook and twitter fans have to say about their families and the families in our collection. We haven’t offered the choice of artwork to the public in this way before, so it’s very exciting to see where you will lead us in our decisions for this display.”

This is your chance to really get involved with the art that’s being shown at Tate!

Here are some works to get you started…

The Last Day in the Old Home, 1862

The Last Day in the Old Home (1862), Robert Martineau

This family is facing the consequences of a spendthrift lifestyle. Their posessions are marked up to be sold at auction, and by the looks of the painting of a horse and rider in the left foreground, it was the father’s fondness for betting on horse races that did it… and his son seems to be following in his footsteps.

Mrs James Wyatt Jr and her Daughter Sarah (circa 1850)

Mrs James Wyatt Jr and her Daughter Sarah (circa 1850), John Everett Millais

This work by Millais contrasts his own stark, realistic depiction of the mother and child with Raphael’s, which is visible in miniature in this protrait’s background.

The Smith Family, Fife, Scotland 1989

'The Smith Family, Fife, Scotland 1989' © Thomas Struth

Struth was travelling a great deal in order to photograph buildings around the world, and staying with different families in each place. At the end of his stay, he would take a photograph of the family to remember them. He used long exposure times, meaning the subjects had to sit very still to avoid blurring the photo – creating an effect much like older, formal portrait photography.

Posted on by Hannah Flynn
Filed under Blog

About Hannah Flynn

Hannah Flynn is E-Learning Assistant for Tate and Co-Ordinator for the Great British Art Debate online. Her favourite British artist is John Martin.


  1. I’m a disabled amateur painter, so can’t visit the Tate, but would love to know more about Mary Beale..Who taught her? Why did she paint on paper? Is there a book about her life and painting techniques? I’d be grateful for any other information you can offer. Thankyou!

  2. i think it is cool

  3. For me, it would be the De Chirico. The image is full of futurist, cubist forms, the parents are faceless, but the mother (not nearly as pale as the father, therefore more alive?) shows a breast (nurturing, i guess) and cradles the baby in her large hand, protecting it. The contrast between the loving, protecting, cradling gesture and the geometric shapes in the rest of the painting shows what the love between a parent and a child can mean in this modern world – what is more important than providing a safe haven for your child? And that haven is usually called a family.
    Also, there is emotion, feeling, in this painting. Most of the paintings in the slideshow are just portraits that do not reflect any familial attachment.

  4. I have already voted for * Christ in the House of his Parents * by Millais . Though there are lots of family matter works in Tate that really touch. I hasitated but finally decided that all of them reflect Private , awaking your own recollections ,bringing them to life .And it is very nice …but * Christ in the house of his Parents * gives the Global , as I think , gives the start .May be I am not right , may be it will look too strong in comparison with 3 others , sounding dissonancing ?

  5. I would choose ‘The Centurion under the bed, Summerfield House, 1997″ by the wonderful Wendy McMurdo. This is a beautiful piece of work which cleverly and sympathetically documents the way we play as children

  6. Daily life interests me, not formal “let’s look regal for the painting” works. Intimate family scenes with pets are informal and true to life. Many of the slides showed families with their pets where no one is perfect. Dérain’s painting is the one I liked the most.

  7. “THE LAST DAY IN THE OLD HOME”- Robert Martineau- is my favorite, because i can feel the motion ( and the emotion).

  8. For those of us “stone hewers” that are on the other side of the pond, please hang “The Stanier Rock”. This relatively unknown watercolor work, when more well-known, will bind us not only to the UK, but to each other as well.

  9. David Bomberg – The Artist’s Wife and Baby. Can we argue the importance of the Mother-Child relationship? This picture and Kollwitz has shown us that the pairing is symptomatically charged with the spectrum of emotions that one encompasses in the trials and tribulations of family life.

  10. My choice is L’Heure du Thé, Argenton-sur-Creuse 1980, I think family goes beyond biology, religion, economy and politics. Its part of a culture but it does not fit on a symmetrical cube. In a world where everything moves so fast, somehow we find a tree branch to rest upon.

  11. Leamon~”A Jan Steen Kitchen”
    one word
    family = chaos

  12. Hello Jane, I will pass your details on to the in-gallery team, but I do not know what kind of plans they’re making at this stage. Thanks!

  13. My choice is Manto and Tiresias,- Henry Singleton. Family bonds go beyond age and time. Love is what really connects us and age does not matter or outer appearance. In that way we are family in the love we all are in Essence. Beyond age, belief or colour.

  14. The Family (John Gruen, Jane Wilson and Julia) 1970 This would be my choice. There’s an air of togetherness mingled with disquiet to it that is common to every family.

  15. I suggest Zhang Xiao Gang’s Bloodline – Big Family 1995, oil on canvas. It’s modern and very eerie, questioning the whole idea of family closeness, distance and blood ties.

  16. I would choose John Singer Sargent’s family portrait of Essie, Ruby and Ferdinand, Children of Asher Wertheimer. It has a darker side to it that seems to set it apart from other, more cheery, family groups.

  17. I think an important addition to the collection would be a photo or two from Richard Billingham’s collection “Ray’s a Laugh”. A beautiful, haunting and raw portrait of a family in quiet turmoil, it should be included to help bring balance, as well as for for the images’ artistic merit. It only a moment considering these aestetically magnificant yet nightmarish pictures to remind you that behind closed doors, not all families are perfect; everyone is subject to flaws. In Billingham’s own words, “I was just trying to make order out of chaos.”

  18. First choice would be Mr & Mrs Clark & Percy by David Hockney. Although designer Celia Birtwell was pregnant at the time, the picture makes the viewer question whether two people can every truly be “a family” and whether pets can replace “children”. I also like the composition and muted colour scheme, which is in direct contrast to their very colourful lives.

  19. Giorgio de Chirico
    The Painter’s Family 1926 would be my choice. Because its a realistic representation of family, to me anyway. It has a calm warmth and closeness but also depicts the weight of family life, the balance that we all strive for and the ability to weave everything together. Its a beautiful struggle of love and growth. Which many familys will relate to instantly.

  20. Ralph Peacock – the sisters 1900 gets my vote.
    Families can be big but it is the close relationships within the family that count more than the whole. the intimacy in the painting between the 2 sisters shows a lovely peaceful closeness. That means family to me. Being with someone, knowing you love them and love being with them and they love you back and not needing to talk.

  21. Quick choices from your slideshow…Alex Katz/ Hiroshi & Marcia &/or The Smith Family / Struth (btw more photography would be great)/..both convey 21c family imagery which I identify with

  22. First choice would be Winding wool. Eugene Carrier.because its reminiscent of my childhood,
    Emily Osbourne.. Nameless and friendless..indicating the fickleness of the world, Frank Holl. Hush and hushed..Turner..Runic superstitions..The Cockatoos William Robert and Raoul Duffy The Kessler Family..
    What a fab idea this is!

  23. Michael Andrews – Melanie and me swimming – memories of learning to swim myself and of teaching my children to swim: the power of art to transport you!

  24. Pingback: BUZZEUM » The Great British Art Debate

  25. My vote is for Mrs. Johnstone and her Son…..not only does it illustrate a re-embracing of mothers nursing and caring for their own children but it also illustrates beautifully that feeling of warmth, comfort and safety associated with being within a loving family embrace

  26. Mine would be Sir John Lavery’s The Chess Players. Why? Despite living in a far more modest house than the one depicted, my childhood and family life centred around the living room – and when we were young that usually meant playing games on the carpet or doing jigsaw puzzles on the dining table. It wasn’t always chess – everything from Mousetrap, Monopoly, Top Trumps, Chinese Chequers and lots more, but this painting reminds me of sprawling on the floor between chairs and table legs on a summer’s day in the holidays playing games with my siblings.

  27. John Singer Sargent’s Ena and Betty, daughers of Wertheimer is one of my favourite pictures. For me it oozes the family feeling I share with my sister: an understanding without words that runs deep and cannot be shared with anybody else, an enjoyment of life which we share since our childhood and a sense of humour which no one else can really share. All of this is expressed by the casual openness with which those two sisters confront the viewer. An openness which can be expressed if you have the backing of your family, if they or she is your backbone.

  28. I thought Frederick Walker’s ‘Philip in church’ manages to capture perfectly four members of a family unit with different preoccupations in the particular moment most vividly.

  29. Who’s about Lowry? His Family, but you may not have that one! On seconds thoughts better not, don’t want to show a popular painter!

  30. De Chiroco, The Painter’s Family
    This shows a traditional family unit in an untraditional way. There is a familiarity between the family and also an anonymity that gives the viewer the opportunity to make it personal to them.

  31. My vote goes to Giorgio de Chirico’s The Painter’s Family – stripped down but beautifully composed. Honourable mention for the chaos of William Roberts’ The Cockatoo.

  32. Sorry, would help if I could spell it – The Chomondeley Ladies I meant!

  33. As much as I love Alice Neel’s work, my vote is for The Chomedeley Ladies – I have loved this painting for twenty five years – the flatness of it all; their similarity and also their differences; are they sisters; and have they really had babies at the same time??

  34. I vote for Millais’s “Mrs James Wyatt Jr and her Daughter Sarah”, for the following reasons: The first reason is that this painting shows a side of family, that isn’t too often associated with family, but most certainly appears very often in families. The mother and the daughter don’t seem to connect at all the little girl wants to, but the mother seems to be lost in her thoughts. There is a certain coldness that explicitly shows you the warmth and tenderness that is missing in this family.
    My second reason is that I’m a huge fan of Millais :)

    I also would like to nominate “My Parents” by Hockney. Because they’re both completely absorbed in their own world. Living in their own bubble, like many couples who’ve been married for a long time.

    It was hard, to make a decision, cause there is so much to choose from! Hope my information is useful!

    But of course you’re always free to visit my art page Atelier Amber on Facebook and choose one of my works ;)

  35. My vote is for Orphans by Thomas Benjamin Kennington.
    The relationship between the two boys is so immediately apparent, they look like brothers, whether they are actually brothers doesn’t matter. The look on the younger boys face shows his complete trust and need for the older boy. The way the older boy is leaning in to, and holding the younger boy shows both responsibility and love. They clearly rely on one another and their conditions and situation are of far lesser importance. They are each others family.

  36. #161
    Sir William Rothenstein,The Princess Badroulbadour (1908) WHY?
    kids role playing…just says it all !
    It’s a portrait of ones own expectations & models. (Re/family)

  37. Georgio de Chirco, the Painters Family.
    When the twentieth century knew that nothing would be the same again.

  38. My vote has to go to Alice Neel’s The Family

    I love how she’s captured their families dynamic.

  39. #161
    Sir William Rothenstein,The Princess Badroulbadour (1908) WHY?
    Let’s leave that 4 the debate, shall we?

  40. My vote is for Mark Gertler-Jewish Family because of the strong role of women in the portrait. To me the backbone of the family is and always will be the women.

    • That’s a great choice, and a compelling reason! Thanks for your comment :)