The Laughing Audience

A small, easily overlooked piece of art hangs on the wall of the Northeast bedchamber. The frame holds a hand-colored engraving made by the 18th century printmaker and noted satirist, William Hogarth. “The Laughing Audience”, originally printed in 1790, depicts a group of men and women attending a theatre performance. Three separate social classes at the event are shown; the orchestral members, the nobles, and the general public. Each group is shown with distinctly separate reactions, thus explaining the title of the piece. The print originally belonged to Charles Bulfinch, whose son Stephen married Charles’ Phelps’ granddaughter, Caroline Phelps.

Charles Bulfinch, born in 1763, is most known for his famous architectural works, including the Boston State House and the United States Capitol Rotunda. Caroline and Stephen’s daughter, Ellen Bullfinch, eventually gave the print to her cousin Constant Davis Huntington, who donated it to the museum.