Gainsborough's 'Music Party' in focus
March 30 2017
Tate Britain has put on an 'in focus' exhibition around one of my favourite early Gainsboroughs, his Portrait of Peter Darnell Muilman, Charles Crokatt and William Keable in a Landscape, c.1750. One of the surprises discovered by Dr John Chu and Dr Hannah French during their discussions about the picture was that the type of flute seen in the picture was often also fashioned for use as a walking stick:
I think one of my favourite discoveries was when Hannah and I were remarking on the similarity in the picture between the walking canes and the flute. It’s the kind of thing you often only notice through prolonged careful looking in front of a work of art, which is what we were doing at the time. Hannah observed that, of course, flutes and other musical instruments were often hidden in walking sticks in the period. This was such a lovely revelation. We realised then and there that the survival of so many of these flute-walking sticks meant that the kind of musical walking party that Gainsborough depicts must have been a reality, not just a pictorial fancy, and that his picture captured the close relationship between the two recreations in a kind of visual rhyme.
There's something very 18thC about the idea of people suddenly picking up their walking sticks to indulge in a spot of Bach. I suppose our use of mobile phones as music playing devices today is somewhat similar, if far less sophisticated.