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RCIN 407298

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Johann Christian Fischer (1733-1800), the German composer and virtuoso oboe player, made his first public appearance in London in June 1768, his superb performing technique described by Fanny Burney as 'the sweet-flowing, melting, celestial notes of Fischer's hautboy'. He wrote for the oboe and flute and was also skilled at the violin. It is likely that the piano (inscribed Merlin Londini Fecit) on which he leans in this painting is a pianoforte-harpsichord, as patented by John Joseph Merlin (originally from the Netherlands) in 1774; Fischer settled permanently in London in the same year. He played frequently at court and became a member of the Queen's Band; however, he failed to secure the post of Master of the King's Band in 1786.

Gainsborough, himself an accomplished musician, had met Fischer by 1773. This portrait, painted out of friendship rather than as a commission, was recorded in Gainsborough's Bath studio the following year. X-rays reveal that the canvas was reused: Fischer's portrait was painted over an abandoned imaginary portrait of Shakespeare between Tragedy and Comedy, commissioned by David Garrick in the summer of 1768. Fischer's elegant pose, developed from that of Shakespeare beneath, relates to Peter Scheemakers's famous sculpture of Shakespeare (1740) in Westminster Abbey; with his upward glance and pen in hand he seems to be seeking poetical inspiration. In 1780 Gainsborough gave unwilling consent to Fischer's marriage to his elder daughter Mary (1748-1826), correctly predicting that the union would not be a success.

Catalogue entry from Royal Treasures, A Golden Jubilee Celebration, London 2002