Artist biography

PHILIP MERCIER ? 1689–1760

Painter of portraits and a pioneer in England of conversation pieces and ‘fancy pictures’; an important figure in the introduction of French taste into England.

Born in Berlin, probably in 1689 (or 1691), son of a French Huguenot tapestry worker employed by the Elector of Brandenburg; trained in Berlin, partly by Antoine Pesne, French-born Court Painter to Frederick I of Prussia from 1711. Travelled in France, acquiring familiarity with work of Watteau, in whose work he dealt (and some of which he etched and perhaps even forged) and evidently in Italy; he held a sale of pictures ‘collected abroad’ in London 1742.

Probably settled in England 1715. His first English patrons were Hanoverian courtiers, for whom he painted portraits and conversation pieces. Received official court patronage for similar work almost immediately after the arrival from Hanover in December 1728 of Frederick, Prince of Wales: appointed as Prince's Principal Painter (1729–36) and Library Keeper, a post involving purchase of pictures (1730–8). Member of St Luke's Club between 1726 and 1735. Within a decade, had fallen from royal favour and temporarily retired from London (? to Northamptonshire, for a year during 1736–7).

Returned to London by October 1737, now concentrating on ‘fancy pictures’, in this genre evidently influenced by Chardin. Based in York 1739–51, the period of his greatest activity, painting portraits and sentimental domestic subjects, with his eye on the print market; many works engraved (including a ‘fancy’ series), chiefly by Faber Jnr and Houston. Visited Ireland 1747, and Scotland 1750. In Portugal for a year, 1751–2, with portrait commissions from English merchants. Returned to London 1752; exhibited three works at first exhibition of SA 1760; died 18 July 1760.

Married firstly Margaret Plante, London, 1719; secondly, Dorothy Clapham, London, 1735. The work of his second wife, his daughter Charlotte (1738–62) and (?) his son Philip is noted by Ingamells and Raines 1978.

LITERATURE John Ingamells & Robert Raines, ‘A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings and Etchings of Philip Mercier’, Walpole Society, XLVI, 1978, pp.1–70

EXHIBITIONS Philip Mercier, York City Art Gallery and Kenwood 1969

Published in:
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth: British Painters Born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery Collections, II, London 1988