'The Music Party'
- Extended Catalogue Entry
'The Music Party'
by Philip Mercier
oil on canvas, 1733
17 3/4 in. x 22 3/4 in. (451 mm x 578 mm)
Sittersback to top
- Princess Amelia Sophia Eleanora (1711-1786), Second daughter of George II. Sitter associated with 7 portraits. Identify
- Anne, Princess Royal and Princess of Orange (1709-1759), Daughter of King George II; wife of William Charles Henry Friso, Prince of Orange. Sitter associated with 24 portraits. Identify
- Princess Caroline Elizabeth (1713-1757), Third daughter of George II. Sitter associated with 14 portraits. Identify
- Frederick Lewis, Prince of Wales (1707-1751), Son of George II; father of George III. Sitter associated with 35 portraits. Identify
Artistback to top
- Philip Mercier (1691-1760), Portrait painter. Artist associated with 26 portraits, Sitter in 3 portraits.
This portraitback to top
The 26-year-old Prince is shown playing the cello with his three eldest sisters, but the individual princesses cannot be identified with certainty. The most likely arrangement is (left to right), Anne, Princess Royal (age 24), Princess Caroline (age 20) plucking a mandolino, 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. Mercer was principal painter to the Prince of Wales and drawing master to the Princesses.
Linked publicationsback to top
- I-Spy National Portrait Gallery, 2010, p. 25
- Audio Guide
- Bennett, Sue, Five Centuries of Women and Gardens, 2000 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 5 October 2000 to 21 January 2001), p. 57
- Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), pp. 158-159 Read entry
This family portrait shows the children of George II and Caroline of Brandenburg-Ansbach making music. The 26-year-old Frederick, Prince of Wales, sits centrally playing the bass viol, an early cello. His sister Anne, Princess Royal (aged twenty-four), sits to the left playing a harpsichord, and behind her Princess Caroline (aged twenty) plucks a mandola, a form of lute. Princess Amelia (aged twenty-two) leans against the harpsichord with a volume of Milton's poems on her lap. In the background is the Dutch House at Kew (now the main surviving part of Kew Palace in the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), where Anne lived before her marriage in 1734 to Prince William of Orange. The sisters are shown modestly dressed, while Frederick is more formally attired in a red suit and wearing the blue sash of the Order of the Garter.
The portrait was painted by Frederick's Principal Painter and Librarian Philip Mercier, one of a number of artists that Frederick attracted to the court. The composition brings a new sense of relaxed informality to royal portraiture. Frederick clearly approved of this manner of presentation as a number of versions were made. The suggestion of harmony between the siblings belies the antipathy felt by his family for Frederick; he was hardly on speaking terms with Anne in the year that this portrait was painted. Frederick died at the age of 44 and was succeeded as heir to the throne by his son, George III.
- Kerslake, John, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, p. 338
- Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 109
- Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 122
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery: An Illustrated Guide, 2000, p. 88
- Saumarez Smith, Charles, The National Portrait Gallery, 1997, p. 88 Read entry
Philippe Mercier was an artist of French Huguenot origin who had arrived in London soon after the Hanoverian accession and in 1729 had been appointed 'Principal Portrait Painter' to Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-51). In 1733 Frederick started to play the bass-viol and was so pleased with it that he was described as having 'his violoncello between his legs, singing French and Italian songs to his own playing for an hour or two together, while his audience was composed of all the underling servants and rabble of the Palace.' Evidently inspired by his new-found interest, he commissioned Mercier to paint a group portrait of himself playing the bass-viol in the grounds of Kew House, in company with three of his sisters, Princess Anne, Princess Amelia and Princess Caroline. Mercier's portrait shows a new informality in which the action and setting are more important than his vapid depiction of character.
- Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 713
Placesback to top
- Place portrayed: United Kingdom: England, London (sitter's home, Kew Palace, Kew Gardens, London)
Subjects & Themesback to top
Events of 1733back to top
Current affairsPrime 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 scienceJohn 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.
InternationalPhilip 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.
Become a Member
Enjoy access to special events, discounts on the Gallery online shop, supporters’ updates and much more
Bringing people together by sharing the portraits and stories of the men and women who have shaped our nation.
Sign up to receive information on exhibitions, collections and activities of the National Portrait Gallery, including special offers, shop products, and exclusive competitions.
Tell us more
Framed & unframed prints
Choose your favourite portrait from our Collection as a framed or unframed print for your home.