The Collection

Boy with Parrot

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Artistunknown, British 18th century
TitleBoy with Parrot
MediumOil on canvas
ProvenanceLord Shrewsbury[?]; collection of Sir Stephen Aitchison, Lemmington Hall; purchased from E & H Thompson, Carlisle 1952
Exhibition‘Government Art Collection: Selected by Cornelia Parker: Richard of York Gave Battle in Vain’, Whitechapel Gallery, London 16 September to 4 December 2011; ‘Revealed: Government Art Collection’, Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery 17 November 2012 to 24 February 2013, Ulster Museum, Belfast 15 March to 9 June 2013
Dimensionsheight: 52.80 cm, width: 43.20 cm
AcquisitionPurchased from E & H Thompson, Carlisle, October 1952
LocationUK, London, Cabinet Office, 70 Whitehall
GAC number1886
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Neither the artist nor sitter of this early 18th-century portrait, showing a boy feeding an African Grey parrot, are known.

The Age of Exploration of the late 15th and 16th centuries saw parrots from India, Africa, the Americas and the Far East being imported into Europe. These exotic birds were popular pets, particularly among wealthy classes. From the mid-16th century they are seen in European visual arts as the beautiful, rare companions of wealthy owners. They are prevalent in British portraiture of the late-17th and early 18th centuries; featuring as both pampered pets and status symbols, as demonstrated by this example. British-based portraitists, including Peter Lely, Godfrey Kneller and Michael Dahl included parrots in some of their works, while Joshua Reynolds is known to have owned the macaw seen in a selection of his portraits.

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