'The Music Party'

1 portrait

'The Music Party', by Philip Mercier, 1733 - NPG 1556 - © National Portrait Gallery, London

© National Portrait Gallery, London

'The Music Party'

by Philip Mercier
oil on canvas, 1733
17 3/4 in. x 22 3/4 in. (451 mm x 578 mm)
Purchased, 1909
Primary Collection
NPG 1556


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  • Philip Mercier (1691-1760), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 26 portraits, Sitter in 3 portraits.

This portraitback to top

George II did not allow his son Frederick to come to London until the age of twenty. The prince soon established himself as a focus of political opposition to his father and became the patron of the most avant-garde artists of the time. In this portrait the 26-year-old Prince is shown playing the bass-viol with three of his younger sisters; from left to right, Anne, Princess Royal (age 24) at the harpsichord, Princess Caroline (age 20) plucking a mandora (a form of lute) and Princess Amelia (age 22) reading from Milton. In the background is the Dutch House at Kew where Anne lived before her marriage in 1734 to Prince William of Orange. The suggestion of harmony between the siblings belies the antipathy felt by his family for Frederick; it is said that he was hardly on speaking terms with Anne in the year that this portrait was painted. More detailed information on this portrait is available in a National Portrait Gallery collection catalogue, John Kerslake's Early Georgian Portraits (1977, out of print).

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Current affairs

Prime Minister Robert Walpole narrowly escapes defeat in the House of Lords over the investigation into the South Sea affair. His Excise scheme, introduced the previous year, also provokes widespread resistance among merchants and is withdrawn. Sugar and Molasses Act is passed by Parliament to tax British colonists in North America.

Art and science

John Kay, working in the Lancashire woollen industry, patents the flying shuttle to speed up weaving. Poet Alexander Pope publishes his philosophical Essay on Man, which proposes a system of ethics in poetic form. Clergyman Stephen Hales publishes the second volume of his Statical Essays, Haemastaticks, describing the measurement of the 'force of the blood', later known as blood pressure.

International

Philip V of Spain and Louis XV of France sign the Treaty of Escurial and form an alliance against Britain. Voltaire publishes Letters on the English Nation comparing France unfavourably with England. British colonist James Oglethorpe founds Savannah, Georgia.

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Richard Webb

11 July 2016, 17:16

Re: The Music Party', Philip Mercier, 1733 - I am delighted that you have included my notes regarding this painting on your website. I neglected to mention that the website makes note that Frederick, Prince of Wales, is playing a Bass Viol. Although he may have also played the bass viol*, he is playing a Violoncello in this painting (and in the similar painting in the Royal Collection). The description of the instrument -Violoncello - in the National Portrait Gallery Collection Catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, is correct. * Egmont Diary, I, p.290.
Errata: Regarding the widespread use of the 'screw-button, please delete '1740's'. The sentence should read: The screw button was not in widespread use in England until the 1750's. Please note that the spelling of 'English' (Concert) above is incorrect.
There is a further depiction by of a violoncello player by Mercier
http://collections.britishart.yale.edu/vufind/Record/1669217
The Violoncello appears to be newly made and is set-up with and ebony veneered fingerboard and tailpiece. Unusually for this date, 1744-47, all 4 strings are plain gut - rather than the bottom C string being plain gut wound with silver. Maybe the elderly woman cellist did not have access to a silver covered string, could not afford one, or preferred the plain gut string from her formative cello-playing years. Note the considerable thickness of the plain gut C string compared with the depiction of the string in The Music Party, 1733. Her bow is of the clip-in type, there being no indication of a screw-button
Clip-in bow details:
http://www.maestronet.com/forum/uploads/monthly_04_2009/post-1872-1241069401.jpg
Richard Webb, Former Baroque Violoncello: Academy of Ancient Music & English Concert.

Richard Webb

11 July 2016, 16:25

Re:The Music Party' by Philip Mercier, 1733 I am delighted that you have included my notes regarding this painting on your website. I neglected to mention that the website makes note that Frederick, Prince of Wales, is playing a Bass Viol. Although he may have also played the bass viol*, he is playing a Violoncello in this painting (and in the similar painting in the Royal Collection). The description of the instrument -Violoncello - in the National Portrait Gallery Collection Catalogue: John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, is correct. * Egmont Diary, I, p.290. Errata: Regarding the widespread use of the 'screw-button, please delete '1740's'. The sentence should read: The screw button was not in widespread use in England until the 1750's. Please note that the spelling of 'English' (Concert) above is incorrect. Richard Webb, Former Baroque Violoncello: Academy of Ancient Music & English Concert.

Richard Webb, Former Baroque Violoncello: Academy of Ancient Music & Englush Concert

04 July 2016, 20:59

Strings: The bottom violoncello string - low C - appears to be silver wire covered gut, with the 3 upper strings being plain gut. Silver wound strings were developed in Bologna c.1660-65. Formerly a large cello-like instrument (bass violin/basse de violon) using all gut strings was used to play bass lines in baroque music. The silver wound C string (and later silver covered G string) allowed for the development of a smaller instrument - the 'violoncello' c 1700. English players did not immediately adopt the use of the new covered strings, but by 1733, they were in widespread use in England. The smaller instrument allowed ease of playing in higher positions leading to the development of an increasingly virtuosic solo repertoire. London was home to a number of performers and composers of solo violoncello music during 1730's-1740's, including Handel's friends Cervetto and Geminiani. Frederick's ebony-veneered fingerboard is indicative of the use of covered strings, being more wear resistant than maple which was formerly used. Bow: Given that the painting does not show a screw-button to tension the bow hair, Frederick's bow has a 'clip-in' frog - a typical arrangement at that date. The screw button was not in widespread use in England until 1740's - 1750's. Upon close inspection, The Rev. John Chafy is using a bow with a *clip-in frog in the painting by Gainsborough,1750-52 (Tate Gallery).

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