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Prince Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales (1707–1751) playing the Cello, accompanied by his Sisters, Anne (1709 - 1759), Caroline (1713 - 1757) and Amelia (1711 - 1786), making Music at Kew

Philippe Mercier (Berlin 1689 – London 1760)

Category

Art / Oil paintings

Date

circa 1733 - 1750

Materials

Oil on canvas

Measurements

775 x 570 mm (30½ x 22½ in)

Place of origin

Kew

Order this image

Collection

Cliveden Estate, Buckinghamshire

On show at

Not on show

NT 766108.2

Caption

Philippe Mercier's delightful, informal scene of Frederick, Prince of Wales playing the cello at Kew hides a tragic tale. At the time it was painted, the royal family was involved in a bitter feud over Frederick’s determined efforts to assert his independence from them and his Germanic roots. Born and brought up in Hanover, Frederick didn’t arrive in England until his father’s accession to the throne. His easy manner made him likable among his subjects, despite his dubious command of the English language. However, the vitriolic hatred dished out on their son by George II and Queen Caroline became a national scandal. Sadly, all did not end well for Frederick. Legend has it that he was fatally struck by a cricket ball while playing with his children at Cliveden. His low key burial in Westminster Abbey took place without the presence of a single member of the royal family. This anonymous contemporary epitaph, quoted by William Thackeray, succinctly sums up his tragic demise: ‘Here lies Fred, / Who was alive and is dead / . . .There's no more to be said.’

Summary

Oil painting on canvas, View of Kew with Prince Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales (1707–1751) playing the Cello accompanied by his Sisters by Philippe Mercier (Berlin 1689 – London 1760), circa 1733 - 1750. In the centre of the scene the Prince in red jacket with blue sash sits playing the cello. To the left a sister, Princess Anne (1709 - 1759), in white is seated at the harpsichord and behind her another sister, Princess Caroline (1713 - 1757), in blue, is playing a mandolin (or mandora, a type of lute). To the right another sister, Princess Amelia (1711 - 1786) in yellow, a book in her left hand (Milton's poems; possibly referring to his L'Allegro) and she is therefore possibly representing Mirth, her right elbow leant on the end of the harpsichord. Framed by trees with Dutch house at Kew behind palings in centre background. Another exterior version (cut down and now in horiziontael format) is in the National Portrait Gallery, dated 1733 and an interior version in an unidentifiable location is in the Royal Collection. Mercier served as Painter and Librarian to Frederick, Prince of Wales from 1728 until 1738.

Full description

There are three versions of this picture - one of the most delightfully informal portraits of a royal prince to be painted anywhere in the 18th century - and this is in many respects the most satisfying of the three. What is probably the prime version, in the National Portrait Gallery, signed and dated 1733, but unfortunately shorn of about a foot at the top of the canvas and an inch beneath, and not in perfect condition, is identical in composition to the present picture . Its history prior to its acquisition by the National Portrait Gallery in 1909 is unknown. The third version, in the Royal Collection, takes the same group of figures, but places them - with somewhat greater credibility, when it comes to the harpsichord! - in an apartment of the Prince of Wales's - almost certainly at Kensington Palace - and, adds a listening dog. This was first recorded, after the Prince's death, in 1767, in store in the 'Pall Mall Apartments' (i.e. of the Prince's former house, Carleton House), as "a picture of His Late Royal Highness Prince of Wales, & 3 Sisters in a Concerto". The present picture appears to have been given to Col. Johann Schutz (d.1773), Keeper of the Privy Purse & Master of the Robes to Frederick, Prince of Wales, since it was sold with and from Shotover House, Berkshire, which passed to the descendants of his brother, Augustus, Baron Schutz, Keeper of the Privy Purse & Master of the Robes to George II, through his marriage to Penelope Madan, Lady in Waiting to Queen Caroline, the ward of the childless General Tyrell of Shotover. The two brothers had previously commissioned Mercier's earliest surviving conversation-piece - indeed earliest surviving English portrait altogether - which appears to have been conceived in part as an affirmation of loyalty to the Protestant Succession and the Hanoverian dynasty . Mercier himself was successively appointed Principal Painter (6 February 1729), Gentleman Page of the Bedchamber (6 March, 1729), and Library Keeper (26 January 1730) - which also meant picture-buyer - to the Prince. When this picture was included in the forced sale of Shotover House in 1855, the Princesses were identified as: "the Princess of Orange [i.e. the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, 1709-59; m. 14 March 1733/4, William IV, Prince of Orange], and the Princesses Amelia (1711-86; George II's second daughter) and Caroline (1713- 57; the King's third daughter)", all of whom had previously been painted by Mercier, along with their brother, as whole-lengths, in 1728 (Shire Hall, Hereford). There is no tradition as to which sister is which in the present picture, and their likenesses in both it and the whole-lengths are scarcely differentiated enough to tell. Mercier painted two further portraits of Princess Anne, both of which have disappeared, though the first, a standing three-quarter-length in the Prince's hunting livery, is visible as the overmantel in Charles Philips's picture of Frederick, Prince of Wales, with the Knights of the Round Table in a the Blue Room at Kew House of 1732 . Mercier also taught all the Princesses to draw and paint . There can be no doubt that these are the three sisters shown, since the fourth, Princess Mary (1723-71), was then much too young to be any of them. The setting, the Dutch House at Kew, is also where the Princesses lived. There is, however, a small difficulty over the date on the National Portrait Gallery version of this picture, because of the entry of 2 December 1733 in the diary of Lord Egmont, noting: "the breach between him [the Prince] and the King being so great that he has not spoken this twelvemonth to his sister the Princess Royal, which must be supposed the Order of the King" . Yet Frederick had only begun to learn the bass-viol around that year , and by the summer of 1734 he was regularly to be seen at Kensington Palace: "with 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" . The Princess and Prince also took opposite sides in the Handelian and anti-Handelian factions that divided music-lovers (and the politically-inclined, since it became another form of proclaiming allegiance either to the King or to the Prince) in 1733-34. The breach between the Prince and Princess cannot have endured, however, in that the Prince would never have permitted Mercier to paint his sister and her husband, the Prince of Orange, in 1733/34, if it were to have done so. Furthermore, even though Lord Hervey claimed in his - not always reliable - Memoirs that: "the Prince, in the beginning of his enmity to his sister, set himself at the head of the other opera [i.e. to the Royal Opera in the Haymarket: the 'Opera of the Nobility' in Lincoln's Inn Fields] to irritate her" , recent research by Carole Taylor has shown that he was supporting Handel too in the very season of 1733/34, as well as in subsequent seasons . It is therefore clear that, by 1734 at least (and it should not be forgotten that, under the Old Style calendar, 1733 continued until 25 March 1734, New Style), there must have been an element of sheer teasing in the supposed musical quarrel between the Prince and the Princess Royal . And it is, indeed, perhaps that friendly difference in musical tastes that this picture was designed to express. Although the Princess Royal is usually identified as the Princess playing the harpsichord, because of a remark of Lord Egmont's about her competence upon this instrument, he actually only says that: "she sings fairly and accompanies her voice with the thorough bass on the harpsichord at sight" , which does not necessarily suggest competence to chamber music standard; whilst we simply have no evidence for her sisters' comparative accomplishments, so that there is no particular reason to think that she, rather than one of them, is shown playing the instrument here (indeed, in the related drawing bearing Thomas Worlidge's monogram in the Royal Collections at Windsor, this figure is seen sketching, rather than playing the harpsichord) . Is it not possible that it is actually the figure shown looking up from reading Milton with an amused look on her face who is intended for the Princess Royal, and that her ostentatious refusal to join in the music-making is intended to show her difference with Frederick over the matter of their musical tastes? A little surprisingly, perhaps, after all this, the genesis of the depiction was not a portrait group at all, but a finished wash drawing by Mercier of an imaginary Concert Champêtre (British Museum), oblong and with many more figures, of evidently Watteauesque inspiration, and containing almost exactly the same grouping of figures at its centre. This in turn seems to have been inspired by an anonymous illustration in a song-book, The British Musical Miscellany, or The Delightful Grove, published around 1732 by - ironically, Handel's publisher - John Walsh . Notes: (i) NPG 1556: see John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, 1977, vol.I, pp.338-40 & vol.II, pl. 950; see also exh. cat. Philippe Mercier, York City Art Gallery & Kenwood, 1969, no.24; John Ingamells & Robert Raines, 'A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings and Etchings of Philip Mercier', The Walpole Society, vol. XLVI, 1976-78 [1978], p.22, no.39. (ii) Oliver Millar, The Tudor, Stuart, and Early Georgian Pictures in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen, 1963, no.522, vol.I, pp.174-75 & vol.II, pl.184; exh. cat. cit., no.26; Ingamells & Raines, 1978, p.22, no.40. There are grounds for doubting the location of the room at Hampton Court suggested by these and Edward Croft-Murray, (Decorative Painting in England, 1537-1837, vol.II (1970), p.255), and (by implication) by Michael Levey, The Later Italian Pictures in the Royal Collection, 1964, p.91. Contrary to what is maintained by Kimerly Rorschach, 'Frederick, Prince of Wales as Collector and Patron', The Walpole Society, vol.LV, 1989/90 [1993], pp.7 & 42 n.14, nor does the view through the window bear any resemblance to the setting of the Prince's Carleton House. The painting by Pellegrini seen on the wall is from a set first recorded at Kensington Palace, and it was there that Hervey records the prince constantly playing the cello to all and sundry. (iii) Exh.cat.cit., no.11; Ingamells & Raines, 1978, p.31, no.85. (iv) Ingamells & Raines, pp.3 & 8-9 n.7. (v) Oliver Millar 1963, no.533, vol.I, p.177 & vol.II, pl. 207. (vi) Vertue, Notebooks, vol.II (Walpole Society, vol.XXII), 1934, p.72. (vii) Diary of Viscount Percival, afterward First Earl of Egmont, Historical Mansucripts Commission, vol.I (1920), p.454. (viii) Egmont, op.cit., pp.290 & 412. (ix) John, Lord Hervey, Some Materials towards Memoirs of the Reign of King George II, ed. Romney Sedgwick, 1931, vol.I, p.310, quoted by Millar, cat.cit., no. 522 [the discrepancy over what instrument the prince played is odd. A 'cello is certainly shown in the picture, but Egmont was a good enough musician to have a 'concert', and so to have distiguished between a bass viol and a violincello (but see also Hervey's Memorial, ed.Sedgwick, vol.I, p.195)]. (x) See exh. cat. Handel, National Portrait Gallery, London, 1985-86, p.143. (xi) This is also the view come to by Kimerly Rorschach, op.cit., p.7. (xii) Egmont, op.cit., p.466, entry for 19 Dec. 1733. (xiii) Ralph Edwards, 'Mercier's Music Party', The Burlington Magazine, vol.XC Nov. 1948, p.311 & fig.5; this, and its pendant of the Prince, may have been copied from preparatory drawings by Mercier for the painting. In a painting now at Wilhelmsthal that has been mistakenly attributed to Charles Philips (Rorschach, op.cit., p.57, no.104), but which is more probably by Enoch Seeman, showing Frederick as a spectator with four of his sisters, Anne would appear to be the one in the centre playing the mandora, whilst Amelia plays the harpsichord, and Caroline paints, with Mary (later Landgravine of Hesse-Cassel) looking on. (xiv) See Edwards, art.cit., p.311 & fig.4; and H.A. Hammelmann, 'Music-Making at Home', Country Life, vol. CXLIV, 24 October 1968, p.1053 & fig.4. (adapted from author's version/pre-publication, Alastair Laing, In Trust for the Nation, exh. cat., 1995)

Provenance

Schutz family, Shotover House sale, 26 October 1855, lot 632 (for the detail of this provenance, see Ingamells, 1978, p.31, no.85); W.E. Biscoe, Holton Park; his sale, Christie's, 20 June 1896, lot 9: bought C. Davis; ?William Waldorf, 1st Viscount Astor (1848-1919; who had bought Cliveden, which had once belonged to Frederick, Prince of Wales, in 1893); presented to the National Trust, with the house and grounds, by Waldorf, 2nd Viscount Astor (1879-1952) in 1942

Makers and roles

Philippe Mercier (Berlin 1689 – London 1760), artist of original

Exhibition history

In Trust for the Nation, National Gallery, London, 1995 - 1996, no.18

References

Edwards 1948 Ralph Edwards, 'Mercier's Music Party', The Burlington Magazine, vol.XC Nov. 1948, p.311 n.10 Ingamells 1974 John Ingamells, 'An Existence à la Watteau', Country Life, CLV, 7 February 1974, p.257, fig.4 Ingamells 1975 John Ingamells, 'A Hanoverian Party on a Terrace by Philip Mercier', Burlington Magazine, CXVIII, July 1976, p.512, n.7 Kerslake 1977 John Kerslake, Early Georgian Portraits, National Portrait Gallery, London 1977 (2 vols), vol.I, pp.338-39; vol.II, pl. 949 Ingamells & Raines 1978 John Ingamells & Robert Raines, ‘A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings and Etchings of Philip Mercier’, The Walpole Society, vol.XLVI, 1978, 1976-78 [1978], pp.20-21, no.38 Kimerly Rorschach, Frederick, Prince of Wales (1707-51), as Collector and Patron', The Walpole Society, vol.LV, 1989/90 [1993], pp.7-8 & 56 no.99 & fig.7. Shawe-Taylor 2009 Desmond Shawe-Taylor The Conversation Piece Scenes of fashionably life, Royal Collection Publications, 2009, p. 82-4, no. 15 for Royal Collection interior version Solkin 2015 David H. Solkin, Art in Britain 1660 - 1815, Pelican History of Art, Yale University Press, 2015, p. 89. [note 13], fig. 87 for NPG version

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