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Philippe Mercier, 1689 or 1691–1760, Franco-German, active in Britain (from 1716)

The Sense of Hearing

Former Title(s):

The Sense of Sound [as published in 1985 YCBA Concise Catalogue]

1744 to 1747
Oil on canvas
Support (PTG): 52 x 60 1/2 inches (132.1 x 153.7 cm)

Signed, lower right: "Ph. Mercier fecit."

Credit Line:
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
Copyright Status:
Public Domain
Accession Number:
Paintings and Sculpture
Subject Terms:
arcades | cello | child | columns (architectural elements) | conversation piece | costume | earrings | elderly | flute | flutist | genre subject | girl | harpsichord | harpsichordist | hearing | interior | Italianate | music | musical instruments | operas | Rococco style | scores | senses | sonatas | spectacles | violin | violinist | women
Associated People:
Handel, George Frideric (1685–1759), composer
Geminiani, Francesco Saverio (1687–1762), composer and music theorist
On view

Philippe Mercier was born in Prussia to French parents and trained as a painter in Berlin under the French artist Antoine Pesne. In 1716 he moved to London and quickly established himself as favorite among the German émigrés who had followed the Elector of Hanover to Britain when he was crowned George I in 1714. Mercier was among the first in Britain to popularize the latest French rococo style, then called simply the “modern” style. The Sense of Hearing belongs to a set of paintings representing all five senses, and Mercier made his living from selling reproductive prints after popular paintings such as these. In this scene, a group of amateur musicians play the latest music of George Frideric Handel and Francesco Geminiani, both Continental composers who made their careers in London.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2016

The scores on the harpsichord are marked "Hendel Operas" and "Geminiani's Sonates." In the 1740s, both Georg Friedrich Händel and the Italian violinist and composer Francesco Geminiani were living in London. As a foreign artist striving for success in the British art world, Mercier may well have chosen these musical names to make the point that if other foreigners in Britain could take the lead in music, why should not well-connected foreign painters, such as he, take the lead in art? The group of ladies are presumably performing a Geminiani trio sonata, with the harpsichordist playing from a figured bass, the cellist doubling the bass line, and the flutist and violinist playing the two upper parts.

Gallery label for installation of YCBA collection, 2005

1747, Richardson's Sale, Foundling Hospital dinner, Mercier, The Star, vertue III, 1933-34, p. 135, N12 W35 A1 + OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Timothy J. Barringer, Art & music in Britain, four encounters, 1730-1900 (exhibition and label text) , New Haven, 2006, [p. 15], V 1699:1 (YCBA)

Timothy J. Barringer, Art & music in Britain, four encounters, 1730-1900 , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 2006, pp. 4-5, V 1699 (YCBA)

Christie's Sale Catalogue: Important English Pictures. Friday, 21 June 1974, Christie's, 1974, p. 48, no. 126, pl. 126, Sales Catalogues (YCBA)

John T. Hayes, English Painting and the Rococo, Apollo, vol. 90, n0. 90, August 1969, pp. 120, 122, fig. 10, N1 A54 + (YCBA)

John Ingamells, A Catalogue of the Paintings, Drawings, and Etchings of Philip Mercier, Volume of the Walpole Society, vol. 46, Walpole Society, 1976-8, pp. 5, 62, no. 264, pl. 5d, N12 W35 +A1 OVERSIZE (YCBA)

Julia Marciari-Alexander, This other Eden, paintings from the Yale Center for British Art , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 1998, pp. 48-49, no. 12, ND1314.3 Y36 1998 (YCBA)

National Gallery of Art, Painting in Georgian England from the collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon., National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1970, p. 11, ND488 P25 (YCBA)

Painting in England 1700-1850, collection of Mr. & Mrs. Paul Mellon. , Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, VA, 1963, p. 207 (v.1), no. 204, pl. 130, ND466 V57 v.1-2 (YCBA)

Paul Mellon's Legacy, a passion for British art. [large print labels] , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, CT, 2007, v. 3, N5220 M552 +P381 2007, Mellon Shelf (YCBA)

Robert Raines, Philip Mercier, 1689-1760, an exhibition of paintings and engravings. , Paul Mellon Foundation for British Art, London, 1969, p. 47, no. 48, NJ18 M5427 R35 (YCBA)

Sotheby's sale catalogue : British Paintings 1500-1850 : 13 July 1988, Sotheby's, London, July 13, 1988, pp. 128-29, Lot 84, Auction Catalogues (YCBA)

Susan E. Thompson, Traversfloten im Kolonialen und post-revolutionaren Philadelphia, laut Pennsylvanis Gazette zwischen 1744 und 1783 , Tibia, Jahr, 29, Heft 2, April, 2004, p. 96, ML5 T553 (Music)

Jennifer Ullman, Philippe Mercier and The five senses, Yale Center for British Art. , Yale Center for British Art, New Haven, 1990, V 0099 (YCBA)

Donald Blake Webster, Georgian Canada, conflict and culture, 1745-1820 , Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Canada, 1984, p. 174, no. 185, N6546 O6 W42 (YCBA)

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