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Painting Title A Scene from ‘The Careless Husband‘
Collection York Art Gallery
Artist Mercier, Philippe (French painter, 1689-1760, active in England)
Date 1738 (dated)
Signed yes

The subject of this painting is taken from Colley Cibber's The Careless Husband, act 5, scene 3. It was a popular play, first staged in 1704, and performed at both Drury Lane and Covent Garden theatres in London in the period 1737-39. In this scene, Sir Charles Easy is found by his wife in a compromising situation, asleep and wigless, with her maid, Mrs Edging. Instead of being angry, Lady Easy worries that her husband may catch a cold, and she gently covers his bare head. When he later wakes, Sir Charles realises his wife's goodness and is full of remorse. For an 18th century audience it was considered both shocking and undignified for a man to expose his naked shaven head; the maid has been shown with one of her breasts uncovered.

Philippe Mercier was born in Berlin of French extraction; he travelled in Italy and France before arriving in London probably in 1715 or 1716. He was familiar with the work of Antoine Watteau, and is sometimes described as his follower. A very similar composition (but with full-length figures) was engraved by Pierre Dupin (1718-?), entitled La femme commode and described as after Nicolas Lancret (French painter 1690-1743).

Current Accession Number YORAG : 1179
Inscription front lr ‘Ph. Mercier fecit / 1738’
Subject literature (Colley Cibber, The Careless Husband); figure; interior
Measurements 103 x 124.5 cm(estimate)
Material oil on canvas
Acquisition Details Purchased through Agnew's Ltd. from Christie, Manson & Woods in London 1969, lot no. 47, as ‘a lady attending to wounded gentleman, in an interior, with a lady to the right fainting‘.
Provenance The Brodie of Brodie sale Christie's, 5 December 1969, lot 47, purchased by Agnew's.
Principal Exhibitions The Social and Aesthetic Meanings of Hair and Hairstyles, Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester, 1987.
Publications PREVIEW. City of York Art Gallery Quarterly, 91, July 1970, vol. XXIII, pp. 827-30; Catalogue Supplement 1974: Amendments and Additions to Catalogue Volumes I and II, City of York Art Gallery, York, 1975, p. 34, pl. 4; Ingamells, J. and Raines, R., ‘A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings and Etchings of Philip Mercier', Walpole Society, 46, 1976-1978, p. 55; Oil Paintings in Public Ownership. North Yorkshire, London, 2006, p. 310

In 1738 Mercier created another painting as a pair to the Careless Husband: it was a scene from another play, The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar (1706), of similar size and composition. Both paintings were copied in the form of mezzotints by John Faber II in 1739. The The Recruiting Officer painting by Mercier used to be described in publications as of unknown location, but was sold in Sotheby's in London (9 March 1997, lot 112). According to the catalogue it used to be in the collection of Harold Davis, sold at Sotheby's in 1953, bought by Mattoni; in 1997 it was sold to a private collection in the UK.

Rights Owner York Museums Trust (York Art Gallery)
Author Dr Magdalena Łanuszka



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