The three young artists in Mercier's painting are shown drawing from a fragment of antique sculpture, one of the core components of academic artistic training in the 18th century and among the first to be undertaken. The boys are engaged in an activity appropriate to their age, but a suggestion of their impending artistic maturity is implied in their studious expressions and the finished painting displayed in the background. Holding his drawings under his arm and admiring his fellow's work, the fair-haired boy also appear to embody the future connoisseur. Mercier's subject of young artists was a popular one in the 18th century and stands in the artistic genre of 'fancy pictures': the sentimental depiction of a broad range of individuals, from children to servants and beggars.
Philippe Mercier's contribution to British art lies with his introduction of French taste into 18th-century British painting. His fancy pictures and conversation pieces (informal, often small-scale group portraits) were further developed by successive artists. Mercier moved to York in 1739, where this work was probably painted.
Where to see this painting?
Government Art Collection
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