PHILIPPE MERCIER - LOVERS BY CANDLELIGHT

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PHILIPPE MERCIER (1689-1760)

LOVERS BY CANDLELIGHT 

oil on canvas
76 x 64 cm (30⅛ x 23¼ in)

PROVENANCE: 
Cary Charles Collection, London (Possibly);
Mr. Langford and Son, Auction BR-A744, Lot 3,
Phillipe Mercier - 
A boy and girl by candlelight, 
12-13 Mar 1766 (Possibly); 
Owned by the same family for more than
70 years and then
sold at Sothebys
Old Master Day Sale L19037, Lot 184.

COMPARATIVE PAINTING:
Christie's 
A YOUNG GIRL READING BY CANDLELIGHT
76.8 x 64 cm, signed PM
Sold: 120.000 USD (incl buyers premium)
Read more here 

   Introduction    

 
From princely portraits to everyday life scenes in
the art of Philippe Mercier.

   

Both in his life and artworks, Philippe Mercier (1689– 1760) reflects many of the dramatic cultural and political events that occurred in early 18th century Europe. Behind his elegantly light and vibrating style of painting was a career of success, scandals, travels and artistic creativity that gives us insight into the changing roles of art during the enlightenment period. With its peaceful yet intriguing atmosphere,  Lovers by Candlelight is a prominent example of how a charming domestic scene reveal stories far beyond the tranquility of its subject matter.

Detail of the central part of the composition with the tense yet tender contrast between the sleeping girl and boy leaning over her neck.
 
Born in Berlin by French parents that likely fled France after the expulsion of the Huguenots in 1685, he studied under fellow French artist Antoine Pesne and continued his education with extensive travels in Italy and France. After settling in England in 1716 he became a favorite of Frederick, Prince of Wales, famous for his patronage of art and culture. The appreciation of Mercier was expressed in several high-ranking titles at the princely court such as Principal Painter to the Prince, Gentleman Page of the Bedchamber and Library Keeper. After a series of jealous incidents and intrigues with his rivals at the court, Mercier fell out of favor in the 1730s and his royal association came to an end in what has been described in scandalous circumstances. However, this did not end his career. Instead he later abandoned royal portraiture and re-established himself in the genre of fancy pictures –  motifs of domestic scenes and people engaged in everyday life situations. Eventually, Mercier found new patrons and a large audience both with his new style of painting and numerous reproductions made with mezzotint engravings. After a brief stay in Portugal, Mercier died in London in 1760 and he remains one of the most intriguing artists of the emerging Rococo movement in England.



The resting hands of the girl painted with swift brushstrokes and subtle shifts of lights and shadow.

Lovers by Candlelight likely dates from the later period of Mercier’s career and is a typical example of the kind of genre painting, also known as petit genre, that depicts kitchen maids, family members or everyday life situations. It contrasts the grand genre of history painting and became popular collectibles for the growing bourgeoise and middle classes who appreciated this art that was free from heavy moral or intellectual content. Mercier's version of this style waw influenced by contemporary French genre painters such as Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699–1779), with its typically calm intimacy and cheery mood.
The girl, wearing a bonnet with lace and a simple, striped dress, has fallen asleep in the midst of work by her sewing basket. The boy, dressed in a reddish-brown coat and with brown slightly disheveled wavy hair, takes the opportunity to come close to her, perhaps lovingly intending to either surprise her or lift her up to her bed. The shining brass candleholder, the scissor, the reflection in the tabletop and the gradually intensifying light in their skin tones and clothing all build up a sense of anticipation and spontaneity.

The Music Party, painted by Mercier during his time as a favorite with the prince in 1733.  By courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery, London.

  It is bewildering to think that Lovers by Candlelight is by the hand of an artist that was previously known for painting in the grand style of royal portraiture. The faint light in the midst of evening darkness, the intimate interaction between the unassuming girl and the tenderly curious boy and complete lack of any glamorous or fanciful elements that were to so typical for his earlier production indicates an artist with a changed perspective – and perhaps even a deepened insight. Overall, the scene shows that seemingly innocent domestic scenes are in fact traces of a new sensitivity and interest in the intimate, the personal and the private. Despite the slightly idealized faces and neat composition, this painting is far from a onenote sentimental scene. Instead, it reflects a heightened presence into portraying human interaction that still, after more than two hundred and fifty years, enables us to connect with the eye and experience of the 18th century.

 

The sewing basked further emphasize the domestic character of the scene.
The sewing basked further emphasize the domestic character of the scene.


LITERATURE

Waterhouse, Sir Ellis. "English Painting and France in the Eighteenth Century." Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 15 (1952): 127-128.

Raines, Robert and John Ingamells. Philip Mercier 1689-1760.
Exh. cat. 
City Art Gallery, York; Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood,
London. London, 
1969.

Ingamells, John and Robert Raines.
"A Catalogue of the Paintings, 
Drawings and Etchings of Philip Mercier."
Walpole Society 46 (1978):
1-70.

Hayes, John. British Paintings of the Sixteenth through Nineteenth Centuries.
The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic 
Catalogue.
Washington, D.C., 1992: 168-169.

 

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PHILIPPE MERCIER - LOVERS BY CANDLELIGHT
PHILIPPE MERCIER - LOVERS BY CANDLELIGHT
PHILIPPE MERCIER - LOVERS BY CANDLELIGHT
PHILIPPE MERCIER - LOVERS BY CANDLELIGHT
PHILIPPE MERCIER - LOVERS BY CANDLELIGHT
PHILIPPE MERCIER - LOVERS BY CANDLELIGHT
PHILIPPE MERCIER - LOVERS BY CANDLELIGHT
PHILIPPE MERCIER - LOVERS BY CANDLELIGHT