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An Opera Rehearsal

An Opera Rehearsal
oil on canvas
18 7/8 x 22 ½ in. (48 x 57.1 cm.)
inscribed by Horace Walpole 'Bought at the sale of John Duke of Argyll in / March 1771. I believe it was not painted by / Hogarth as the Singers, of which the Woman in /black is Signora Margherita, were antecedent / in time to Hogarth's painting, as appears by the dresses, which are of the latter end of Queen Anne's reign /Hor Walpole. / It was certainly painted by / Sebastian Ricci, and the / landscape by Marco Ricci' (on a label on the reverse)
Charles Stanhope [probably Charles Stanhope of Elvaston (1673-1760), elder brother of William Stanhope, 1st Earl of Harrington]; his sale (†), 3 June 1760, as 'Hogarth' (5 gns.).
John Campbell, 4th Duke of Argyll, KT (1693-1770); his sale (†), Langford & Son, London, 19 March 1771 (=1st day), where purchased by or on behalf of the following,
Horace Walpole, 4th Earl of Orford (1717-1797), Strawberry Hill, Twickenham (hung in the Great North Bedroom), by whom bequeathed with a life interest in the house to his cousin,
Anne Seymour Damer (1748-1828), and by inheritance to,
John James Waldegrave, 6th Earl Waldegrave (1785-1835), and by descent to his son,
George Edward Waldegrave, 7th Earl Waldegrave (1816-1846); Strawberry Hill Sale, on the premises, 13 April 1842 (=20th day), lot 115, as 'Sebastiano and Marco Ricci' (12 gns. to the following),
John Graham, Edmond Castle, Cumberland, and by descent in the family until 1987.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 8 April 1987, lot 13 (£187,000).
with Colnaghi, London, 1987, from whom acquired by the following,
Private collection, Virginia; Sotheby's, London, 13 December 2001, lot 73 (£366,500), when acquired.
H. Walpole, Anecdotes of Painting in England, Twickenham, 1761-71, revised ed. R.N. Wornum, London, 1876, II, p. 629.
H. Walpole, A Description of the Villa of Mr. Horace Walpole ... With An Inventory of The Furniture, Pictures, Curiosities, Strawberry Hill, 1774, pp. 106-7.
H. Walpole, A Description of the Villa of Mr. Horace Walpole ... With An Inventory of The Furniture, Pictures, Curiosities, Strawberry Hill, 1784, p. 75, as 'by Sebastian Ricci, the landscape in it by Marco Ricci'.
The Works of Horatio Walpole, Earl of Orford, London, 1798, II, p. 498, as 'Sebastiano and Marco Ricci'.
G. Robins, Catalogue of the Classic Contents of Strawberry Hill Collected by Horace Walpole, sale catalogue, London, 1842, pp. XVII and 205-6, illustrated.
T. Borenius, 'Two Venetian pictures of Queen Anne's London', Apollo, I, 1926, pp. 208-9.
F.J.B. Watson, ed., Eighteenth Century Venice, exhibition catalogue, London, 1951, pp. 31-2, under no. 104.
European Masters of the Eighteenth Century, exhibition catalogue, Royal Academy, London, 1954, pp. 89-90, under no. 295.
A. Blunt and E. Croft-Murray, Venetian Drawings of the XVII-XVIII Centuries in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, London, 1957, p. 143.
E.W. White, 'The rehearsal of an opera', Theatre Notebook, XLV, no. 3, Spring 1960, p. 81, pl. 5.
M. Levey, 'The eighteenth century Italian paintings exhibitions at Paris: some corrections and suggestions', The Burlington Magazine, CIII, no. 679, April 1961, p. 240, fig. 18.
J. Daniels, Sebastiano Ricci, Hove, 1976, pp. 61-2, no. 188, as 'Sebastiano Ricci'.
J. Daniels, L'Opera Completa di Sebastiano Ricci, Milan, 1976, no. 625, as 'Sebastiano Ricci'.
E. Martini, La Pittura del Settecento Veneto, Udine, 1982, p. 495, note 134.
R. Leppert, 'Imagery, musical confrontation and cultural difference in early 18th-century London', Early Music, XIV, no. 3, August 1986, p. 323, illustrated.
F. Vivian, ed., The Consul Smith Collection, Fort Worth, 1989, p. 20, illustrated.
F. Vivian, Da Raffaello a Canaletto: La Collezione del Console Smith, Milan, 1990, p. 22.
A. Scarpa Sonino, Marco Ricci, Milan, 1991, pp. 126-7, no. 53, figs. 63-64.
D. Succi and A. Delneri, eds., Marco Ricci, exhibition catalogue, Belluno,1993, p. 102, illustrated.
London, Royal Academy, Italian art in Britain, 1960, no. 432, as 'Sebastiano Ricci'.
Paris, Petit Palais, La Peinture Italienne au XVIIlième Siècle, 1960-1, no. 366.
Stockholm, Nationalmuseum, Konstens Venedig, 1962-3, no. 28.
Bassano del Grappa, Palazzo Sturm, Marco Ricci, 1963, no. 28, (mistakenly reproducing the Knutsford version and a detail of the Knutsford version in the catalogue).
London, Royal Academy; and Washington, National Gallery of Art, The Glory of Venice: Art in the Eighteenth Century, 15 September 1994-23 April 1995, no. 26.
Sale Room Notice
In addition to the lots marked in the catalogue with the relevant symbols this lot has a guarantee fully or partially financed by a third-party who may be bidding on the lot and may receive a financing fee from Christie's. Please see the conditions of sale for further information.

Brought to you by

Clementine Sinclair
Clementine Sinclair Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

Lot Essay

This pioneering musical conversation-piece is a key work of the early maturity of Marco Ricci and a highly significant record of the musical world of London in the early-eighteenth century. It is of distinguished provenance.
Marco Ricci and his fellow artist, Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, travelled from Venice to London in the suite of Charles Montagu, 4th Earl, and later 1st Duke of Manchester when he returned from his embassy to the Venetian Republic in October 1708. Manchester was both a patron of the visual arts and keenly interested in music. On 24 February 1708, he was sent a letter by his friend the architect Sir John Vanbrugh, asking him to find a male and a female singer to perform at the Queen’s Theatre in the Haymarket. Vanbrugh, who designed the building which was begun in 1704, raised subscriptions from 29 others, twelve of whom like himself and Manchester belonged to the Kit-Cat Club. In 1706, he surrendered control to Owen Swiney, but by early 1708 had recovered this, which no doubt explains his request to Manchester. By then Vanbrugh was at work on Manchester’s seat, Kimbolton Castle. During the Earl’s absence in Venice in the summer of 1707 the south front of the house had collapsed. Vanbrugh and Lady Manchester took stock and communicated with her husband, and work on the former’s highly innovative remodelling proceeded in earnest from the following summer: that he sought to give the place ‘Something of the Castle Air’ hints at the theatrical interests he and his patron shared.
Soon after their arrival in London, Ricci and Pellegrini undertook decorative work for Manchester’s London house, Manchester House, Arlington Street, a commission that led to their employment at Vanbrugh’s Castle Howard for Charles Howard, 3rd Earl of Carlisle, another member of the Kit-Cat Club. The two painters were also jointly employed by Vanbrugh at the Queen’s Theatre, doing the scenes for the revival of Scarlatti’s Pirro e Demetrio, arranged by Nicola Francesco Haym (1678-1729), which opened on 2 April 1709, and a revival of Camilla two days later. Ricci alone did the sets for Mancini’s LIdaspe Fedele, first performed on 6 March 1710. By 9 August of the following year, Ricci was back in Venice, only to return to London with his uncle Sebastiano Ricci in the spring of 1711, they finally returned to Italy together in 1715. It is in the context of Vanbrugh’s speculation with the Queen’s Theatre and the interest he, Manchester, Carlisle and other subscribers to the theatre had in promoting Italian opera that this very remarkable picture and the several variants of two related compositions by the artist should be seen.
As was recognised by both Jeffrey Daniels and Edward Croft-Murray respectively, this is the ‘prime original’ or ‘key picture’ in a group of ten interrelated works which White in his fundamental study of these persuasively divided into three types of which this was evidently the first. It very probably records a rehearsal for the Pirro e Demetrio, as the recorded movements of the key singers suggests. The alto castrato, Nicolò Grimaldi, Nicolini (1673-1732) who played Pyrrhus, stands, lavishly dressed, as if pausing in front of the harpsichord. He had arrived in London in 1708 and was to star in the title roles of Handel’s Rinaldo and Amadigi in 1711 and 1715. To his left, leaning backwards, is the English singer, Catherine Tofts (c. 1685-1756), who played Climene. She would leave for the continent in 1709 and subsequently marry Joseph Smith, merchant and subsequently Consul in Venice, connoisseur both of the fine arts and of music. Seated behind the harpsichord in white is the equally celebrated soprano, Margherita Francesca de L’Epine (c. 1683-1746), who had come to London in 1702 and was in huge demand as both singer and lover: she had the male role of Marius in the opera. Beside her, seated at the keyboard is Haym, whose role it was to coordinate the stars whose services Vanbrugh had secured. A successful musician, he was a distinguished numismatist and a discriminating collector of drawings. On the extreme left is Haym’s erstwhile pupil, Joanna Maria Lindelheim (d. 1724), known as ‘the Baroness’, who sang with ‘a fan before her face’. Opposite her, drinking from a cup, to the evident irritation of the man seated beside him, is the Zurich-born impresario Johann Jakob Heidegger (1666-1749) who was subsequently to have a long association with Handel. Flanking the warm Italian landscape on the wall, so characteristic of the artist’s work, are two oval portraits. The young man on the left, looking to his right and thus out of the pictorial space, is Marco Ricci himself. The balancing portrait is of his uncle, Sebastiano Ricci, who was not to reach London until 1711. He too, perhaps for this reason, faces outwards.
Ricci painted a smaller version of the design omitting ‘the Baroness’, in bodycolour on vellum, a medium in which he was so adept. This was in the Knutsford collection (A. Scarpa Sonnino, op. cit., 1991, no. T 47, fig. 65). Ricci also evolved two related compositions, of each of which there are four versions or variants. In the first of these the harpsichord is turned and moved to the right: Nicolini and Tofts, the latter in white, stand beside this singing the duet ‘Caro, caro from Pirro e Demetrio. Behind the latter is de L’Epine engaging her future husband Dr. Pepusch, while Heidegger, is seated on the extreme right studying a score. Three of the versions show what is evidently the same room, with a coastal landscape by the artist flanked by a pair of oval flowerpieces (New Haven, Yale Center for British Art, and two sold at Sotheby’s in 1970 and 1977; A. Scarpa Sonnino, nos. 0 69, 54 and 55, figs. 61, 60 and 62); while the fourth, presumably bought by Lord Carlisle, shows what is evidently a first floor room, with trees seen through an open sash window (ibid., no. 0 15, fig. 59). The second group shows ‘the Baroness’ and Tofts rehearsing the duet ‘Kindly Cupid exert thy power’ in the same opera. These are set in a larger room. The widest version, measuring 53 by 102 centimetres (ibid., no. O 39, fig. 69) was in the Villa Tempi, Montemurlo. Smaller canvases are in the Yale Centre for British Art and recorded on the art market (ibid., nos. 0 68, 67 and 56, figs. 71, 70 and 72). In the Villa Tempi and one of the smaller canvases (ibid., no. 0 67) a landscape similar in character to that in the present picture is shown flanked by oval coastal scenes, while in the other two (ibid., nos. 0 68 and 56) there is a single coastal landscape with a curtained doorway introduced on the right.
In this picture and the related canvases Marco Ricci created what was in effect a new genre of conversation piece some two decades before Hogarth painted his sequence of scenes from the Beggars Opera, a copy of one of which Horace Walpole would place on the same wall as this work. Hogarth’s pictures would in turn lie behind the theatrical conversation pieces of Zoffany.
A note on the provenance:
The first recorded owner of this picture was Charles Stanhope, M.P. (1673-1760), of Elvaston Castle, Derbyshire, a lawyer who held the offices of Under-Secretary of State, Secretary to the Treasury and Treasurer of the Chamber in succession between 1714 and 1727, but is better remembered for his controversial role in the affairs of the South Sea Company. He owed these offices to the close friendship of his second cousin and exact contemporary, the statesman James, 1st Earl Stanhope (1673-1721), for whom he acted as secretary and confidant. Lord Stanhope was a kinsman of Vanbrugh and, like Carlisle, a fellow member of the Kit-Cat Club: two chimneypieces copied from ones designed for Hampton Court, Herefordshire by Vanbrugh were installed for him when he made alterations at Chevening in 1717-8. Charles Stanhope must thus have moved in the world of the Queen’s Theatre and it is possible that he was the original owner of the picture, but it might alternatively have been inherited with Elvaston on the death in 1730 of his elder brother, William, whose marriage to the widow of Lord Stanhope’s uncle, Charles, was childless.
After Stanhope’s posthumous sale the picture was acquired by General John Campbell of Mamore (c. 1693-1770), who in 1761 succeeded as 4th Duke of Argyll. He was evidently a man of considerable taste, employing the Palladian architect Roger Morris to design his English house, Combe Bank, Sundridge, Kent in about 1725. In 1761, he inherited the historic family estate in Scotland, but not the remarkable collections of pictures and of architectural drawings and books formed respectively by his first cousins, the 2nd and 3rd Dukes. Both he and his son, however, became energetic collectors in their own right.
When the picture was offered in the 4th Duke’s sale in 1771, it was acquired by Horace Walpole, to whom it must have appealed both as a work of art and as a historical record. He placed it prominently in the Great North Bedroom at Strawberry Hill, the gothic mansion built as much to house Walpole’s collections and proclaim his role as a champion of scholarly taste as to serve as a personal residence. Walpole’s label on the reverse reads:
'Bought at the Sale of John Duke of Argyll in March 1771. I believe that it was not painted by Hogarth, as the Singers, of which the Woman in black is Signora Margherita, were antecedent in time to Hogarth’s painting, as appears by the Dresses, which are of the latter end of Queen Anne’s reign. Hor Walpole'.
Walpole subsequently inserted a sentence before his signature: ‘It was certainly painted by Sebastian Ricci, and the landscape by Marco Ricci’. This must have been added after the publication in 1774 of the Description of Strawberry-Hill, in which no artist is referred to, but fuller iconographic information is recorded: ‘Rehearsal of an opera, with caricatures of the principal performers; Nicolini stands in front, Mrs. Toft is at the Harpsichord, Margarita is entering in black’. The significance subsequently attached to the picture at Strawberry Hill is suggested by the decision of the auctioneer, Robins, to include an engraving of it in the catalogue of the sale of the collection in 1842.

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