Dated to circa 1716-1717 by Rosenberg and Prat this sheet of two studies of a child standing, and another of a seated girl, perhaps a few years older is related to at least four published works by Watteau, and a recently rediscovered painting on copper which will be sold in these rooms, 30 January 2013 (lot 37). It is utterly characteristic of the artist in several respects -- in its handling of trois crayons, in its arrangement of figures on the page, and in their adaptation and inclusion in multiple painted compositions.
Among 18th Century artists, Watteau is the unsurpassed master of the trois crayons drawing. This technique derived from Rubens in the 17th Century but was tranformed by later French artists such as Charles de la Fosse and ultimately reached its zenith with Watteau. In the present sheet, red chalk predominates while black is used in the hair of all three figures, but as accents only on the figures at the right and left. The white chalk is used for all three figure to highlight both their faces and clothing. In his handling of the red chalk alone, the diversity of technique is extraordinary. Short, jagged strokes and softer passages of hatching are combined to evoke the crisp folds of fabric. In contrast, an undulating line around the neck of the seated girl enhanced by a bit of white perfectly suggests the translucency and delicacy of her ruffled collar.
It is difficult, and indeed was unimportant to Watteau for the purpose of the drawing, to tell whether the two children at the left are boys or girls. Again, this is typical of Watteau's approach to these figures where the precise identity or use of them was less important than the pose he was trying to capture at that moment. As one of his 18th Century biographers, the Comte de Caylus noted:
'The exercise of drawing had infinite charms for him and although sometimes the figure on which he happened to be at work was not a study undertaken with any particular purpose in view, he had the greatest imaginable difficulty in tearing himself away from it...in general he drew without a purpose...It was his habit to do his drawings in a bound book, so that he always had a large number of them that were readily available. He possessed cavalier's and comedian's costumes in which he dressed up such persons as he could find, of either sex, who were capable of posing adequately, and whom he drew in such attitudes as nature dictated...When he took his fancy to paint a picture, he resorted to his collection of studies, choosing such figures as suited him for the moment. These he usually grouped so as to accord with a landscape background that he had already conceived or prepared.'
The figures in this drawing appear with some modifications in at least five painted works by Watteau. The central figure with the child in three quarter view was used most frequently, appearing in L'accordée de village, Assemblée galante (fig. 1) and Entretiens amoureux (Recueil Jullienne, D.V. 116; D.V. 139 and D.V. 124). The child at the far left of the sheet appears, very definitely as a girl and wielding a Harlequin's sword which is only suggested in the drawing, in the painting Heureux âge! âge d'or.. (Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth; Watteau (1684-1721), exhib. cat., Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art and elsewhere, 1984, pp. 365-67, no. 50).
Two of the children appear in a small painting on copper entitled La Déclaration which is being sold in these rooms on 30 January 2013 (lot 37). In this painting, as in the three others, the young child from the center of the drawing stares out at the viewer, her gaze all the more arresting because she is the only figure facing us. Watteau has then taken the seated girl in the right side of the drawing and reversed her pose, including her face which instead of facing three-quarter view towards the viewer, now faces almost in profile towards the amorous couple behind her. Here Watteau's inventiveness is on full display -- having taken two seemingly unconnected figure studies from one drawing -- he has reconceived them as a coherent assembly in La Déclaration.
K.T. Parker and J. Mathey, Antoine Watteau, catalogue complet de son oeuvre dessiné, Paris, 1957, II, no. 718, illus.
D. Posner, Antoine Watteau, London, 1984, pp. 237, 288, note 19.
M.M. Grasselli, The drawings of Antoine Watteau, stylistic development and problems of chronology, unpubl. Ph.D, Cambridge, Harvard University, 1987, pp. 216, 290, note 72.
M.M. Grasselli, 'News' in The Watteau Society Bulletin, III, 1994, p. 54.
P. Rosenberg and L.-A. Prat, Antoine Watteau, 1648-1721, catalogue raisonné des dessins, Milan, 1997, II, no. 508.
Grand Duke Hesse-Nassau (on loan to the Landesmuseum, Darmstadt).
W. Hanhart (according to Parker and Mathey).
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 15 December 1954, lot 120.
Minnie Cassatt, Philadelphia; by descent to the present owner.
About Jean-Antoine Watteau
Characterized by paintings that depict sumptuously dressed aristocrats in nature settings, Antoine Watteau’s distinct style forged the creation of an entirely new genre of paintings termed fête galante. These works are admired for the subtlety of expression in the characters’ faces and gestures, as well as the simultaneous inclusion of both contemporary dress and costume attire, complicating notions of time and place. Though Watteau is often associated with the cheerful subject matter and ornamental concerns of Rococo, it is the innovative combination of reality and artifice that makes Watteau’s work so remarkable.
French, 1684-1721, Valenciennes, France, based in Norgent-sur-Marne, France