Merry Couple

  • Pietro Longhi
  • Venice 1702–1785
  • Oil on canvas
  • 52 x 41 cm. = 21 ½ x 16 ½ in.

Excellent condition: unlined on original stretchers and in original period gold and green Venetian frame.

Merry Couple, Pietro Longhi

This previously unknown Longhi is a variant version of the ‘Merry Couple’ in a quartet of peasant frolics in the Ca’Rezzonico that Longhi painted c.1740. Slightly larger than the present painting (about 61 x 50 cm. = 24 x 20 in. each), the slightly smaller version here included elements of the upper interior lacking in the somewhat truncated version in Venice.  That variation was consistent with Longhi’s habitual utilization of single figures, groupings, and compositional templates in different scale in creating variations on a chosen theme. This practice is amply demonstrated by three autograph scenes of a Painter in his Studio: x-Stirling Collection, Keir, horizontal 38 x 51 cm.; Ca’ Rezzonico, horizontal 44 x 53 cm.; Dublin, National Gallery, vertical

61 x 50 cm. For that matter, the unbridled woman in this smaller Merry Couple and the larger Ca’Rezzonico version also appeared with only slightly modified features, pose and costume center stage in The Drinkers in the Galleria d’Arte Moderna in Milan (61 x 48 cm).

The present painting seems to be the only currently known variant of a painting in the Ca’Rezzonico group, although others may yet appear or, as is equally possible, it may prove to have been affiliated instead with other paintings of compatible themes in similar scale. Often enough, an implicit moral is couched in a painting of unexplained feminine illness as the Sick Lady (Venice, Ca’Rezzonico; 52 x 41 cm.), or in the discrete allure of The Music Lesson (San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor; 53 x 42 cm.), by small emblematic clues such as a caged bird, abandoned bow, or

dropped sheet music which give a domestic activity a potential didactic subtext. The style of the present Merry Couple is strong and certain in an internal contrast of chiaroscuro and color counterpoint laid in with the declarative – and impeccably preserved – impasto of a deftly wielded and well loaded brush.