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  • THE HON. PHILIP PERCIVAL (1686-1748)


    Signed & dated to mount l.l. Ph. Percival Esq. 1727

    Pen & ink with wash on laid paper, watermarked with a Strasbourg lily [possibly Churchill 401]

    20.5 x 35 cm



    With Abbott & Holder, London;

    Private collection, U.K.





    The present work is an astonishingly well-preserved drawing by a figure now all-but-forgotten, but one who was, in his lifetime, feted at Court for his abilities both as an artist and a composer. Drawings such as this by aristocratic amateurs of the early 18th century are comparatively commonplace; however, the quality of the present sheet is an undeniable testament to the artist's former reputation, and it is an important discovery within this genre, all the more so given its creator's fascinating biography. The inclusion of the figure to the lower left of the composition, perhaps the artist himself (see fig. I below), is also of note as being among the earliest examples of such a pictorial element in a work of this genre in the broader context of Anglo-Irish non-professional drawings. We may attach some weight to the identification of the figure as Percival on account of his proximity to the prominent and clear signature directly beneath to the mount.



    Philip Percival was the younger brother of Edward Percival, 1st Earl of Egmont, and son of John Perceval, Bt., substantial landowner in Ireland who had been knighted by Henry Cromwell for his services to the Commonwealth government of Ireland during the Interregnum. Philip's father had been granted a full pardon with the Restoration, and was later appointed Privy Councillor to King Charles II, a Knight of the Shire for County Cork, and a member of the Council of Trade. Philip was therefore born into one of the foremost Irish families of the time, and would have received the best education available to a man of such means, including the increasingly-fashionable practice of draughtsmanship.


    As a younger son of a Baronet, Philip was not expected to succeed his father in political ambitions - which his brother John would go on to do with gusto - and instead he purchased the office of Customer & Collector for the Port of Dublin, a nevertheless important civic position within Ireland (1). Philip held this position for more than twenty years, though he would run into trouble in the role, finding himself detained in England and subject to severe taxes (we do not know the reason), for which his brother petitioned Sir Robert Walpole's assistance.


    Philip was evidently a cultured man, playing an important role in the musical society of Dublin: he was an amateur composer, whose cantatas were well known enough to come to the attention of one of the English Princes according to his brother; is documented as having been a friend of George Frederick Handel (who left Philip's wife some money in his will (2)); and was a member of the influential The Academy of Ancient Music (which was active between 1726–1802 (3)). The most pertinent aspect of Philip's polymath creativity is however his activities as a 'painter': John's diaries provide an important, if brief mention of these skills, with the Earl writing '...I went to court, where the Prince commended me to my brother Percival's cantatas...he added he heard he was a great architect and painter, and that it was a pleasant thing to see him sit in his chamber surrounded with diversions and amusement' (4). The Prince was evidently a great fan of Philip's, as John records another instance where 'He commended my brother Percival's happy genius in everything, painting, composing, and playing music, turning, joinering, etc...'



    The practice of 'limning' and a love of the arts was also fostered in both Philip and John's children: Philip's son John (1711-1770) learned to draw (or 'limn') miniature portraits, as revealed by Daphne Foskett's research; and Helena, daughter of John, was taught to draw by the Bernard Lens the Elder, Limner to the King. An example of her work is preserved in the collection of the British Museum, London (acc. no. 1946,0624.6), repr. in K. Sloan, A Noble Art..., no.44).


    • NOTES


      (1) Manuscripts of the Earl of Egmont: Diary of Viscount Percival, Afterwards First Earl of Egmont, London (3 vols., publ. 1920-23), vol. I, p.168

      (2) Newsletter of the American Handel Society, vol. XV, nos.1-2, April/August 2000, pp.4-5

      (3) Cf. H.D. Johnstone, 'The Academy of Ancient Music (1726–1802): Its History, Repertoire and Surviving Programmes', in Royal Musical Association Research Chronicle, vol. 51 (January 2020), pp.1-136

      (4) Percival, ibid., p.229



      (i) Cf. Kim Sloan's notes on the Perceval family and their artistic connections in 'A Noble Art' : Amateur Artists & Drawing Masters c.1600-1800, London (2000), pp.31-32, 43, 45, 70, 114, 231

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