Great works: Sir Robert and Lady Buxton with Their Daughter Anne, Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Norwich

Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, 1786, 73.6cm x 92.5cm by Henry Walton

Not longer after this delightfully restrained, 18th- century conversation piece was painted by a landowner from Norfolk called Henry Walton, its spidery-legged male sitter, Sir Robert Buxton – he in the green, buttoned-just-north-of-the-knee breeches and smooth white hose, was elected to Parliament as a Tory. In this painting, however, he looks relatively benign, if not protective of all that he surveys – which is not much, but it is more than enough, we feel.

In fact, the entire atmosphere of the work is pleasingly low-key, and made more so by the passages devoted to nothing but nourishingly unemphatic colour – the blue wall behind the unjazzy chaise longue; that carpet, whose greenness seems to want to suggest the enduringly nourishing presence of the natural world, miraculously transported to an interior such as this one in order to do some good. Perhaps a good half of this painting is nothing but plain passages of colour.

We admire the unpretentious, unadorned nature of this domestic interior. Nothing is drawing undue attention to itself as evidence of the family's sense of innate superiority. There are no paintings on the walls, no coats of arms, nothing flourishingly heraldic. This is a modestly virtuous bubble of a place, a serene and relatively noiseless site of exemplary living.

The four-year-old child at the painting's centre is not about to throw a tantrum or vomit on to the carpet. In fact, she is beginning to emerge into her years of educated responsibility, such is the attention she seems to be giving to the book in her mother's hand. She looks, delicately touching the top of her own small chair with her left hand, as restrained and pleasantly dutiful as the broad pink sash at the level of her stomach might suggest.

It is not as though there is nothing happening here. In fact, the family is going about its proper family business. The mother has been working at her embroidery with the aid of the tambour frame that sits on the table beside her while, simultaneously perhaps, reading to the child from that book of hers. Sir Robert has a book of his own in his left hand, and he has evidently been reading it – he is halfway through it, the position of his finger seems to indicate.

The way the arms reach out, touching or intertwining and interlocking, seems to suggest a kind of circling, dance-like motion – and this in spite of the fact that only the child is on her feet. We are prompted into feeling that even more so by the extreme, near painful angle of Sir Robert's roguishly out-flung leg – although by the look on his face he does not seem to be paying much attention to what his leg is doing. It is as if he is just about to rise. The child is at the centre of this protective circle, this act of grave familial binding.

The entire scene puts us somewhat in mind of a great painting by Poussin called A Dance to the Music of Time, which was in England during these years because it was owned by an Englishman. It now hangs in the Wallace Collection in London. Poussin's figures – there are four of them – circle slightly awkwardly. His is a dance of the seasons, and the music is provided by a greybeard of a lyre-player. It is possible that Walton could have known this painting – after all, he was a dealer in Old Master paintings, too.

Perhaps, remembering Poussin, there is also a hint that this family encirclement, in addition to being a gesture protective of the fragility of childhood, exists to remind us of the serenely unstoppable cycle of the seasons (remember that promise of nature in the grassy-hued carpet), kept in motion by that unobtrusive Enlightenment deity (there are no visual hints of deity idolatry in this room) who always, year in, year out, managed the universe like the best of clock-makers.

About the artist: Henry Walton (1746-1813)

Henry Walton was a landowner from East Anglia, and spent the greater part of his life there. Between 1769 and 1770 he did some training with Johann Zoffany in London. He was widely exhibited in London during the 1770s but, by the end of that decade, he had retired to his rural fastness, where he painted, collected and dealt in Old Master paintings and drawings until the cows came home.

Arts and Entertainment
Legendary blues and rock singer Joe Cocker has died of lung cancer, his management team as confirmed. He was 70
music The singer has died aged 70
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams looks concerned as Arya Stark
tv
Arts and Entertainment
photography Incredible images show London's skyline from its highest points
Arts and Entertainment
'Silent Night' last topped Classic FM's favourite Christmas carol poll in 2002
classical
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tv 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there