Phillida Rejecting Mopsus and Cimon: A Scene from Colley Cibber's 'Damon and Phillida' Damon and Phillida Reconciled: A Scene from Colley Cibber's 'Damon and Phillida'
This is the first of two pendant pictures illustrating scenes from a one-act opera Damon and Phillida by Colley Cibber (1671-1757) (see Tate T03112), first performed in 1729. In the opera, the handsome shepherd Damon courts Phillida, a shepherdess. However, Damon's inconstancy exposes her to the unwelcome attentions of two boorish shepherds, Mopsus and Cimon. Fortunately, she unexpectedly receives a dowry, enabling her to escape their clutches and accept the prodigal Damon. In the first scene, illustrated here, Phillida rejects the advances of the kneeling Mopsus; in the second scene she is reconciled with Damon, while in the background Cimon and Mopsus vent their frustration.
The opera Damon and Phillida was conceived as an 'after-piece', the slight story little more than an excuse for the performance of popular ballads, along the lines of The Beggar's Opera by John Gay (1685-1732), which had taken London audiences by storm the previous year. Although Cibber's opera was a far less accomplished piece, it was redeemed by the singing and acting of Kitty Clive (1711-85), who continued to play the role of Phillida until the 1750s. It is almost certainly her likeness that appears in the present pictures.
Cibber's opera appears to have been a response to the popularity of The Beggar's Opera, and the present pictures may have been inspired by Hogarth's various depictions of that piece, and by his work in general of the 1730s.
Editions of Cibber's Damon and Phillida, published during the 1730s and 1740s, carried a frontispiece by Gerard Van der Gucht (1696-1776). The present pictures, which have previously also been attributed to an unidentified member of the van der Gucht family, are now thought to be by William Jones, who appears to have signed the second picture, Phillida and Damon Reconciled, with his monogram 'W.J.'. Little is known of Jones, other than that he worked as a portraitist and landscape painter in Ireland, probably during the 1740s. The landscape style of the present pictures is also reminiscent of four landscape overdoors in the Great Hall of Kimbolton Castle, Huntingdonshire, one of which is signed and dated 'William Jones Pinxit / 1738'. In 1747, or possibly 1748, landscape and history paintings were offered for sale in Dublin 'done by the late ingenious Mr Jones'.
Elizabeth Einberg and Judy Egerton, The Age of Hogarth. British Painters born 1675-1709, Tate Gallery, 1988, pp.234-6, reproduced in colour