An Elegant Musical Party in an Interior’ attributed to Gillis van Tilborgh, oil on canvas depicting a Dutch genre scene with figures dressed in rich silk clothing, fine lace ruffs and fichu collars grouped round musicians playing a clavichord, a fiddle and a flute, some couples holding hands or sitting close together and a baby playing on the floor, with a plaque reading ‘Gerard Terburg 1608-1681’, the reverse with a chalk notation ‘Ld Hesketh’. Dutch, circa 1870.
Provenance: George, 3rd Earl of Pomfret (1768-1830), or his brother The Hon. Thomas Fermor, later 4th Earl of Pomfret (1770-1833), Easton Neston.
Thence by descent, Lord Hesketh, Easton Neston.
His Sale, Sotheby’s London, 17-19 May 2005, lot 82. Private Collection.
Literature: George Baker, ‘The History and Antiquities of the County of Northamptonshire’ 1838, part IV, p.145, as ‘Flemish Musical Party, Palamedes’, and hanging in the Music Room; Philips & MacConnal, 1919, p.1, item 4, as ‘Given to Gerard Terburgh’ and hanging in the Picture Hall.
Genre scenes such as these were invented during the seventeenth century in the Low Countries. Scenes of peasants and “boors” in taverns were by far the most common examples of this type with Teniers in particular seemingly specialising in them. More sophisticated “conversations”, as they were referred to when sold at auction in England in the 18th century, are much more unusual and interesting.
The newly proclaimed Dutch Republic sought independence from their Spanish rulers, establishing their own trade routes around the world. The treasures, spices, and goods brought back to Amsterdam made it the busiest port in Europe and made the Dutch Republic the wealthiest nation on Earth.
This unprecedented influx of wealth resulted in an endless appetite for fine art. Famous artists such as Rembrandt, Rubens, Teniers & Frans Hals made their fortune in response to the market, and for the first time, paintings were made on speculation rather than by commission. Genre scenes such as the present painting belonged to this new category as they appealed to a great number of wealthy citizens. Imbued with a moral message of love and lust, the familiar setting of a tavern interior, with people dressed just like you, made them an incredibly exciting and vivid experience to behold.
Dutch seventeenth century paintings are particularly celebrated for their realism, famously described as “the art of describing.” In fact, the musical recital here is depicted with such attention to detail that Van Tilborgh has included other ‘real’ paintings on the wall in the background, including a rendition of Peter Paul Rubens’ Angelica and the Hermit, which Van Tilborgh would have personally seen in Rubens’ home in Antwerp.
Gillis van Tilborgh
Taught by the most famous Flemish painter of the 17th century, David Teniers, Van Tilborgh became a member of the important Saint Luke Painters’ Guild in Brussels in 1654, when he set up his own successful studio. Specialising in group portraits and genre scenes, Van Tilborgh’s use of colour is lively, with reds and blues reminiscent of Teniers. His success brought him to England around 1670, taking commissions from English aristocracy.
It is unclear quite when our painting entered the collection at Easton Neston but it was certainly in place by 1838. A search of the Getty Provenance Databases has allowed us to trace the popularity of Van Tilborgh and the reception that his work enjoyed after his death. Sadly many of the auction catalogue entries of this period are too brief to be of much use, with paintings simply described as “a conversation by Van Tilborgh” for example. However there are some much more extensive descriptions of certain pieces that help to set ours in its proper context. A painting by Van Tilborgh sold in Brussels on the 20th of January 1779. The description, roughly translated, reads as follows:
“An assembly of artists and their portraits. They are drinking and eating to the sound of music and fifteen in number including the servant and a woman who sings. The scene takes place in a room decorated with paintings”.
Intriguingly our painting also contains 15 central figures-though there are others on the periphery. It is possible that our painting and the one described above may even have been designed as a pendant pair.
On the 26th of May 1783, another Van Tilborgh was sold, this time in London. The catalogue described it as follows:
“The painting room of this artist, he and his friends regaling; a most capital painting of this master”
Perhaps most intriguing of all is the description of another painting by the artist, sold in London on the 24th of April 1776.
“A musical assembly-from the decoration of the apartment which is hung with pictures it gives great reason to believe it belonged to the artist”.
This description could well refer to our piece, though of course it is sadly impossible to be sure. Could the 18th century supposition that the apartment shown in the painting belonged to the artist himself be correct and, if so, could that apply to our own piece? There is no doubt that the central figure in our painting with his arm raised bears more than a passing resemblance to a known self portrait of the artist and so this is a possibility. It may well be that the painting on the wall to which he appears to be gesturing holds the clue and an identification of that composition could prove enlightening.
One final reference from sale records is noteworthy. The sale of the effects of Mrs Garrick, widow of the famous actor David Garrick-an icon of taste in England during the latter part of the 18th century, contained a painting by Van Tilborgh. The sale, which was conducted in London by Christie’s on the 23rd of June 1823, included many paintings of note. The Van Tilborgh was described as:
“Interior of an apartment with whole length portraits of artists. The wall is hung with pictures as specimens of the styles of different Flemish painters”.
The fact that someone at the forefront of taste and fashion in England in the 18th century like the Garricks owned a painting by Van Tilborgh demonstrates very clearly why an aristocratic family with great wealth and taste-the Hesketh-Fermors-would also have been interested in acquiring a piece of this sort.
The seat of the Hesketh-Fermor family for nearly 500 years, Easton Neston was home to an unrivalled collection of works of art, dating from as far back as the Tudor period.
Besides the work by Gillis van Tilborgh, the Old master paintings in the collection include works collected throughout the 18th and 19th centuries by artists such as Jan van Goyen, Joseph van Bredael, Joost Cornelisz. Droochsloot and Pieter de Bloot, as well as an interesting group of 17th century Dutch and Flemish still-life paintings.
The home was finally sold in the early 21st century, alongside the collection including antiques and fine art which brought over $16 million.
Wick Antiques was established by Charles Wallrock in the early 1980s. Having grown up in the Antiques world Charles developed an extensive wealth of knowledge.