In 'Girl with a Bird', by Philippe Mercier, a small bird sits on the forefinger of a young woman. The woman holds a dish of bird food and looks out at the viewer, bringing the bird towards her lips. The affection she shows is almost certainly intended to convey feelings of tenderness towards an unseen lover.
Philippe Mercier was born in Berlin to French Huguenot parents and studied at the Berlin Akademie. After travelling in Italy and France, he finally arrived in London around 1716. He was made Principal Painter to Frederick, Prince of Wales in 1729 and Keeper of his library the following year, but was succeeded in both these posts in the later 1730s. Mercier moved to York in 1739. It was during his time in York that he fully developed his fancy pictures, many of which were also engraved and sold as prints. His reputation lies in his introduction of French taste into 18th-century British art and his development of the ‘conversation piece’, as well as the fancy picture.
Sold through Christie's, London, 'Fine English Pictures and Drawings' sale, on 27 October 1961 (Lot 113), as 'Portrait of a Young Girl', for 350 guineas; from which sale purchased by Agnew’s Gallery, London; from whom purchased by the Department of the Environment in August 1964
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