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'The Music Party'

1 of 14 portraits of Princess Caroline Elizabeth

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'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

Sittersback to top

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

Events of 1733back to top

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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Davide Rebuffa

01 September 2019, 11:11

From left to right, Princess Anne is playing the harpsichord, Princess Amelia playing a 5-course mandolino, (not a mandore, that's a wrong term often used in the 20th century to call the baroque mandolino, actually the "mandore" was a small French instrument not to be confused with the Italian 4- or 5- course baroque Mandolino) and the younger princess Caroline is reading Milton. It is likely that Amelia played the mandolin because Francesco Webber, an Italian lute and mandolino virtuoso who moved to London in 1721, was appointed "Master of music to the Princess Amelia", (at least in 1735 and 1739), at Kensington Palace (after having taught the lute to the Prince of Wales ("Lute master to his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales").

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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