Images of poverty were widespread in the late eighteenth century, but tended to be prettified. Unusually, this picture shows a particular act of charity, and stresses the misery of the beggar. Art theorists argued that images of the poor that were too realistic would disgust people rather than encourage acts of charity.
The father of these children, Sir Francis Ford, was a plantation owner and a politician who actively supported slavery. The existence of this painting of his children’s kindness towards the poor highlights the hypocrisy at the heart of the ideals of Sensibility.