Philippe Mercier (Berlin 1689/91-1760 London)
Philippe Mercier (Berlin 1689/91-1760 London)

The Happy Encounter

Philippe Mercier (Berlin 1689/91-1760 London)
The Happy Encounter
oil on canvas
14 x 12 in. (35.6 x 30.5 cm.)
Marcel Bernstein, Paris, by 1889.
with Wildenstein, New York, where purchased by the father of the present owner.
P. Mantz, 'Watteau', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, LXVI, March 1890, p. 226, as 'Watteau'.
P. Mantz, Antoine Watteau, Paris, 1892, p. 179, as 'Watteau'.
E. Dacier, et al., Jean de Jullienne et les Graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1922, III, p. 142.
R. Rey, Quelques satellites de Watteau, Paris, 1931, p. 77.
K.T. Parker, 'Mercier, Angellis and De Bar', Old Master Drawings, VII, 1932, pl. 42-3.
H. Adhemar, Watteau: Sa Vie, Son Oeuvre, Paris, 1950, no. 221.
D. Sutton, in France and the Eighteenth Century, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1968, no. 463.
R. Raines, et al., Philip Mercier 1689-1760, City Art Gallery, York; Iveagh Bequest, Kenwood, 1969, pp. 18-19, no. 4.
P. Rosenberg and E. Camesasca, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Watteau, Paris, 1982, p. 124, no. 2-I.
A. Wintermute, in An Aspect of Collecting Taste, Stair Sainty Matthiesen Gallery, New York, 1986, p. 21, incorrectly identified as lost.
Paris, Cent chef d'oeuvres, 1892, no. 27, as 'Watteau'.
New York, Wildenstein, 1948.

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Lot Essay

Born in Berlin of French parents, Mercier studied in Germany under Antoine Pesne, who was the First Painter to the King and an avid follower of the painter of fêtes galantes, Antoine Watteau. Following a sojourn through Italy and France, Mercier arrived in London around 1716, where he settled permanently. A successful portraitist, genre painter and printmaker, Mercier became the protégé of Frederick, Prince of Wales.

Although undocumented, it seems beyond doubt that Mercier met Watteau when the French master visited London in 1719-1720, probably introduced by Pesne, who was also living there at the time. Immediately thereafter, Mercier became Watteau's most important imitator and the orginator of the British vogue for Watteau's art. Between 1722 and 1725, Mercier engraved ten compositions said to be by Watteau (though at least a few of them may have been pastiches by Mercier himself) and he distributed them on the British print market.

Among the authentic paintings by Watteau that Mercier engraved was La Promenade (private collection), a picture that Watteau likely executed while he was in London. Closely inspired by La Promenade, Mercier developed the present original composition, which shares with Watteau's painting a central standing couple in a garden, with seated background figures that discreetly observe them. Mercier has reinvented Watteau's image, entirely altering the costumes and adjusting the poses that his figures assume. He does, however, attempt with considerable success to evoke Watteau's delicate paint handling and his particular way of painting foliage and notating blossoms and blades of grass. The Happy Encounter, which can be dated to the early 1720s, is without a doubt Mercier's most beautiful painting made in Watteau's idiom.

Not surprisingly, the painting was long attributed to Watteau himself. Happily, the success of Mercier's composition inspired him to make an etching of his picture, which Dacier and Vuaflart (op. cit.) discovered and published in 1922, which identifies the picture beyond doubt: the artist himself inscribed it in the plate 'P. Mercier Pinxit et Sculp.'.

K.T. Parker published two preparatory drawings for the painting that were in the J. C. Robinson collection; one of these -- a lovely study in red chalk and graphite heightened with shite for the sleeping girl -- is now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield, Massachusetts (inv. 78.D138; see Handbook of the American and European Collections, Springfield, 1979, pp. 156-157, no. 286).

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