Nicolas Lancret, ‘La Récréation Champêtre’, Christie's Old Masters

The rediscovered Récréation Champêtre has been considered lost since the 18th century, but its composition has been known through Joullain's engraving. The print reproduced Lancret's painting in reverse, its publication announced in the Mercure de France in May 1734.

It is likely, however, that the painting predated Joullain's engraving by some years. In subject matter and style, La Récréation Champêtre is a work that derives from the gallant imagery of Watteau, an artist who cast a life-long influence over Lancret, but whose impact was felt most powerfully in the paintings that Lancret made in the years preceding and just following his acceptance into the Académie in 1719. Mary Tavener Holmes has proposed a dating of the mid-1720s for La Récréation Champêtre, noting that its somewhat slick finish is found in several other large-scale paintings by Lancret in that period.

A composite sheet of four figure studies in various chalks by Lancret in the Morgan Library (inv. I, 280) supports this dating. It includes a quite finished drawing of a seated man in beret and fancy dress that is executed in a style characteristic of Lancret's draftsmanship in the early 1720s, superimposed over an earlier sketch for the standing guitarist in the present painting. This underdrawing is faint, but one can clearly distinguish the head and beret, guitar and spread-eagle stance of the figure as seen in the finished painting (see Grasselli, op. cit.).

Lancret brought to the new genre of the fête galante a somewhat broader sense of humor than is typically found in the works of Watteau, his earthier sensibility perhaps inspired by the comic streak of Claude Gillot, the teacher whom he and Watteau once had in common. The sylvan setting, evocative statuary, and theatrically attired young couples of La Récréation Champêtre are all familiar from the repertory of elements that Watteau had previously established for the genre. Nevertheless, the cautious skepticism of the young woman in blue toward the bold entreaties of her suitor, and the comic-opera look of head-shaking disappointment from the girl whose young man would rather play his guitar than pursue his seduction of her, exemplify the fresh and down-to-earth outlook that would make Lancret's pictures so popular.

A copy of the present lot by Charles Collignon (1731-circa 1790) -- one of a group of copies after Lancret -- is in the Salon Lambrissé at the Hôtel de Créhange-Pittange, Thionville (ref. IM57001948, Inventaire Général du Patrimoine). Another copy, formerly Château de Saint Aignan, La Romieu, France, was sold, Christie's, New York, 1-3 October 2007, lot 951, as 'Follower of Bonaventure de Bar' (see M. Eidelberg, 'Defining the Oeuvre of Bonaventure de Bar, Part II,' New York, 2011, cat. no. X37, p. 22, as a copy after Lancret).

We are grateful to Mary Tavener Holmes for having examined the present lot in person and confirming its attribution to Lancret.

Mercure de France, May 1734, p. 941.

M. Huber and C.C.H. Rost, Manuel des curieux et des amateurs de l'art, Zurich, 1804, VII, p. 94.

G.G.T. Paignon-Duval, Cabinet de M. Paignon-Duval, Etat détaillé et raisonné des dessins et estampes..., Paris, 1810, p. 285.

C. Blanc, Histoire des peintres de toutes les écoles, Ecole Française, Paris, 1864, fasc. 13, p. 8.

E. Bocher, Les Gravures françaises du XVIIIème siècle, Catalogue raisonné des estampes, eaux-fortes, pièces en couleur, au bistre et lavis de 1700 à 1800, NICOLAS LANCRET, Paris, 1879, 4ème fasc., no. 68.

R. Portalis and H. Béraldi, Les Graveurs du Dix-huitième siècle, Paris, 1881, II, deuxième partie, p. 496.

G. Wildenstein, Lancret, Paris, 1924, pp. 54, 89, 249, no. 271, fig. 67.

Surmont de Volsbertghe collection, 1793, and by descent to

Madame L. Surmont de Bolsberghe, until 1910 (according to an inscription and seals on the stretcher), from whom acquired by a private collector, France, given to the son of Mlle. Marie ** (according to an inscription on the stretcher).

About Nicolas Lancret

Nicolas Lancret is known for his small-scale paintings of elegantly dressed aristocrats in playful engagements—a painting style called the fête galante of which Lancret was early 18th-century Paris's most famed practitioner. The son of a coachman, Lancret trained as an engraver and became the apprentice to a history painter, afterwards attending the Académie Royale (from which he was expelled for bad behavior) and joining the workshop of Claude Gillot, the teacher of Jean-Antoine Watteau—the artist who would most significantly influence Lancret's trajectory. Upon the death of both artists, Lancret became the main exponent of the fête galante, channeling the subject matter of his formers along with their techniques, like the trois crayons—using three shades of chalk—but forming a rich color palette and humor all his own. His works often adorned royal residences at the request of King Louis XV.

French, 1690-1743, Paris, France, based in Paris, France

Group Shows

Christie's Old Masters, 
New York,