• 13 June 2017
  • 12:30 – 2:00 pm
  • Seminar Room, Paul Mellon Centre

The Huguenot painter Philip Mercier (1689-1760) was at the vanguard of one of the most intriguing of eighteenth-century British art forms: the fancy picture. Playful in tone and fluttering in execution, Mercier's fancies typically depict a non-too-serious world of modern men, women and children living a life of fashion, pleasure and the senses. Though manifestly trivial in theme and decorative by design, these are often nonetheless rather imposing works of art, presenting their life-scale characters close to the viewer so as to evoke a palpable sense of presence. Mercier's role in adapting Continental prototypes of this kind of picture for the diversifying and growing British art market has long been recognised. This talk offers an enhanced version of this origin story, setting the imagery of this first wave of fancies in the context of extraordinary expansion in the British consumption of fine and modish goods of all kinds. It also takes a close look at how, as a maker of novel luxuries, Mercier both profited by and fell victim to the very world of fleeting fashions that he took as his primary subject, exposing the tribulations that lurked beneath the surface of the British fancy picture during its light-hearted beginnings.

The Fellows Lunch Series is a series of free lunchtime research talks given by recipients of Paul Mellon Centre Fellowships. All are welcome but please book a ticket in advance.

Image: Philip Mercier, Margaret Woffington, called oil on canvas. Courtesy of The Garrick Club.

About the speaker

  • Head and shoulders portrait of John Chu

    John Chu is Assistant Curator of Pictures and Sculpture for the National Trust and has taught at the Courtauld Institute of Art and the University of Reading. He has published on the art of Thomas Gainsborough, Joshua Reynolds and French artists working in eighteenth-century Britain, as well as on various dimensions of the National Trust's picture collections. He read English literature at the University of Cambridge before pursuing postgraduate studies in the history of art at the Courtauld. Having specialised in eighteenth-century British and French art during his masters' degree, he gained his doctorate in 2015 for 'The Fortunes of Fancy Painting in Eighteenth-Century England'. He is currently writing a book on the same subject with a Postdoctoral Fellowship from the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.