Catalogue entry

T00922 A Music Party c. 1737–40

Oil on canvas 1025×1270 (40 3/8×50)
Inscribed ‘Reicrem [‘Mercier’ in reverse]. fecit’ b.c.
Purchased (Grant-in-Aid) 1967
PROVENANCE ...; anon. sale, Sotheby's 7 July 1965 (74) bt M. Bernard, from whom bt by the Tate Gallery
EXHIBITED York and Kenwood 1969 (Addenda, 73, repr.)
LITERATURE Ingamells & Raines 1978, pp.6, 60, no.256 (as ‘Music Party III’)

Mercier suffered a considerable reversal of his fortunes during 1736. He had been Principal Portrait Painter to the Prince of Wales since 9 January 1729, with a guarantee of £200 worth of work per annum (plus various honoraria), but was replaced by John Ellys as the Prince's painter on 7 October 1736. Vertue, writing in ‘173 6/7’, noted that after his dismissal Mercier ‘seemed to retire into the country’ (this retirement may have been to Northamptonshire for a year), but had ‘lately’ returned to London, where he not only began once more to ‘commence portrait painting’ but also ‘has painted several pieces of some figures of conversation as big as the life conceited plaisant Fancies & habits. Mixt modes really well done - and much approvd off’ (Vertue III, p.82). Although Mercier had already painted such ‘fancy pictures’ while in the Prince's service, he probably turned increasingly to them in re-establishing his practice. Ingamells and Raines (1978, p.4) note that ‘on some he used a reversed signature, Reicrem ... presumably to mark his determination to start again’. Since it seems reasonable to assume that a signature in this reversed form would have been used on works painted after Mercier's return from retirement (and probable that that retirement lasted for a year), a rather later date than Ingamells and Raines's ‘c. 1736’ is here suggested for T00922.

Quite apart from the significance of its reversed signature, T00922 seems to be more freely painted and therefore almost certainly later in date than two similar subjects which Ingamells and Raines (1978) catalogue as ‘Music Party I’, c. 1725, and ‘Music Party II’, ?1725–30 (p.60, no.254, repr., and no.255).

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