Pedal Harp thumbnail 1
Pedal Harp thumbnail 2
+8
images
Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Europe 1600-1815, Room 1

Pedal Harp

ca. 1785 (made)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

George Cousineau (1733-1800) was one of the leading harp makers of his day, and enjoyed royal patronage as harp-maker in ordinary to Queen Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) from 1775. His harps were usually fitted with seven pedals, like this example, that operated a series of béquilles or double levers which enabled each string to be raised a semi-tone more accurately than had been previously possible. Cousineau's surviving harps were lavishly carved and painted, and would have been thought highly suitable for the salons of Paris in the decades leading up to the French Revolution in 1789.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Carved, gilt, planed and painted pine, with metal mechanisms
Brief Description
Pedal-harp, carved, gilded and painted pine, with metal mechanisms, made by Georges Cousineau, France (Paris), 1780s
Physical Description
'Back of seven ribs. The belly is painted with six figures playing musical instruments, all in the style of Boucher. At the base was a cock and hen (the latter now missing) carved in the round. The pillar is of an unusual section, roughly D-shaped, with corded mouldings in front and also at the back corners. Around it is entwined a garland of carved flowers, interspersed with musical instruments, rising to a satyr's mask. The scroll is surmounted by a scrolling terminal figure with a putto's body. The carving is exceptionally rich, but has suffered much detail damage and has been substantially regilt. Single action by 'crutch' (béquille) mechanism.'



Anthony Baines, Catalogue of Musical Instruments in the Victoria and Albert Museum: Part II: Non-Keyboard Instruments (London, 1978), p. 80.



In 2013 the original hen was repositioned on the base.



The harp is fitted with seven pedals round the base of the instrument.
Dimensions
  • Height: 168cm
  • Width: 750mm
  • Depth: 930mm
Marks and Inscriptions
COUSINEAU LUTHIER DE · LA · REINE · (This is inscribed on a painted ribbon on the soundboard.)
Gallery Label
  • Pedal harp About 1785 An instrument of ancient origins, the harp became particularly popular in the late 18th century. This was partly because it was the favourite instrument of Queen Marie-Antoinette, but also because of recent technical innovations. This harp was made by the queen’s luthier (stringed instrument maker). It is fitted with a mechanism invented by the maker to allow more accurate tuning. France (Paris) By Georges Cousineau Pine, gilded and painted Given by Professor Charles Wheatstone (09/12/2015)
  • PEDAL HARP By Georges Cousineau, Paris about 1780 Inscribed on a painted ribbon Cousineau Luthier de la Reine Non-keyboard catalogue No.: 16/7 Georges Cousineau, appointed Luthier to Queen Marie Antoinette in 1775, invented the "béquille" (or "crutch" action), an improvement on the "crochette". Each string was placed between two crutch-shaped levers (hence the name) that turned in opposite directions when the pedal was pressed, resulting in more accurate semi-tones. This instrument is fitted with such an action. 8531-1863(pre September 2000)
Credit line
Given by Professor Charles Wheatstone
Object history
This object was given to the museum by 'Professor' Wheatstone, most likely Sir Charles Wheatstone (1802 - 1875), a musical instrument maker, who turned to scientific instruments and inventions in telegraphy and was knighted in 1868. 'Said to have belonged to Marie Antoinette, but without any evidence now known'- Anthony Baines: Catalogue of Musical Instruments in the Victoria and Albert Museum: Part II: Non-keyboard instruments (London, 1998), p. 80.
Subjects depicted
Summary
George Cousineau (1733-1800) was one of the leading harp makers of his day, and enjoyed royal patronage as harp-maker in ordinary to Queen Marie Antoinette (1755-1793) from 1775. His harps were usually fitted with seven pedals, like this example, that operated a series of béquilles or double levers which enabled each string to be raised a semi-tone more accurately than had been previously possible. Cousineau's surviving harps were lavishly carved and painted, and would have been thought highly suitable for the salons of Paris in the decades leading up to the French Revolution in 1789.
Bibliographic References
  • Anthony Baines: Catalogue of Musical Instruments in the Victoria and Albert Museum: Part II: Non-keyboard instruments (London, 1998), p. 80 cat. 16/7, and illus. Fig. 103
  • (ed. Stanley Sadie): The New Grove Doctionary of Musical Instruments , (London, 1984), Vol. I, pp. 510 - 511.
  • Elizabeth Miller and Hilary Young, eds., The Arts of Living. Europe 1600-1815. V&A Publishing, 2015. ISBN: 978 1 85177 807 2, illustrated p. 168
Collection
Accession Number
8531-1863

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record createdMay 16, 2001
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