'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
NPG 1556

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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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