Music-playing features prominently in Thomas Gainsborough’s triple portrait Peter Darnell Muilman, Charles Crokatt and William Keable in a Landscape, with the central sitter not only holding the fashionable transverse flute, but putting it to his lips in the act of blowing in a way that was unusual for such portraits of the time. To complement her essay ‘Music, Refinement, Masculinity’ in this In Focus, musicologist and baroque flautist Hannah French has been photographed in front of the painting holding a replica flute very similar to the one played by Keable (see images here) and has performed three eighteenth-century pieces that would have been popular among amateur and professional musicians at the time. Recordings of the performance are reproduced here, along with an interview between French and In Focus lead author John Chu that sheds further light on musicianship as a form of sociability amid the polite classes in the eighteenth century and on the significance and popularity of the flute in the increasingly international music scene of Gainsborough’s time.
The photography, performance and interview took place in March 2016 in the galleries at Tate Britain and in the Tate Prints and Drawings Rooms. The pieces that French played are as follows: ‘Farewell Ye Hills and Valleys’, anonymous, from a traditional song published in The Muses Delight, Liverpool 1754; ‘Shepherd’s Complaint’, set by Mr Russell, published in The Delightful Pocket Companion for the German Flute, London [1745?]; ‘Minuet’, by Michael Christian Festing, from his Minuets with their Basses for His Majesty’s Birth Day, 9th Book, London 1738.