Jean-Antoine WATTEAU (Valenciennes 1684 - Nogent-sur-Marne 1721)
Studies of a Woman Spurning a Man’s Advances and a Woman Leaning Back
Black chalk, graphite and red chalk, heightened with touches of white chalk, and traces of grey wash, on buff paper.
160 x 143 mm. (6 1/4 x 5 5/8 in.)
Although none of the three figures in this drawing can be related to any known painting by Watteau, it nevertheless stands as a supreme example of the artist’s draughtsmanship at its very best. The artist’s masterful use of the distinctivetrois crayonstechnique of black, red and white chalk, together with graphite, is here applied in different combinations in each of the figures, resulting in remarkable effects. As noted by Perrin Stein, on the occasion of this drawing’s inclusion in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2009, ‘The intuitive mastery of red, black, and white chalk that Watteau had achieved by about 1715 is fully evident in this lively sheet of studies. The woman on the left is drawn almost entirely in red chalk, with quick additions and revisions in black. The artist focused on the silky sheen of her skirt and the volume conveyed by the crisp folds. The man seeking to embrace her is drawn in extraordinary shorthand. He appears almost as a ghost, details of costume suppressed in favour of fluid contours expressing movement. The figure of the woman to the right exploits the painterly potential of the chalk in a completely different way. Her clothing is drawn mostly in black chalk, her head and hands in red. Touches of white pull out highlights on her collar and sleeve, while stripes on her hem are added in red.’
With the figures seen slightly from below, it has been suggested that this drawing may represent commedia dell’arteactors on a stage. The dresses are akin to those worn by dancers of the day, and the woman at right appears to be executing a ballet movement. In 1697, during the reign of Louis XIV, performances of the Comédie Italienne, the Paris-based troupe of the Italian commedia dell’arte, were officially banned. By the time Watteau had been admitted to the Académie Royale in 1717, however, the King had died and the Regent, Phillippe, Duc d’Orléans, had invited the Italian actors back to Paris to re-establish the Comédie Italienne. As Margaret Morgan Grasselli has pointed out, ‘The theater was a prime source of inspiration for Watteau throughout his career...he sometimes painted scenes from known plays, but more often he blurred the line between the stage and his painted “real” world by including easily recognizable stage characters…in scenes of love and wooing that resemble in many ways his fêtes galantes.’
This drawing has been dated to c.1718 by Grasselli and Marianne Roland Michel, while Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat prefer a slightly earlier date of around 1717. In their 1996 catalogue raisonnéof Watteau’s drawings, Rosenberg and Prat noted in particular of the present sheet ‘the extraordinary freedom of the silhouette of the gallant embracing the woman at the left. This figure is entirely drawn in red chalk, with a repetition of her bodice in black chalk, as an overdrawing, while the other young woman is treated in roughly the opposite manner. The beauty of the mise en page, and the balance between the figures, is quite remarkable.’ Rosenberg and Prat further relate this drawing stylistically to a study of three women in red chalk in the Kupferstichkabinett in Berlin, which they suggest may have been drawn at the same time and perhaps even at the same session.
As Martin Eidelberg has justly written of Watteau’s figure drawings, ‘Beyond the elegance of posture and costumes are the deeper emotions of his figures. However we interpret their mood, as happy or nostalgic, it must be said they are intensely alive, physically and spiritually. One is attracted by their wit and vivacity, by the sense of the fleeting moment of their existence.’And, as Stein has written of the present sheet, ‘Like many of Watteau’s figure studies, the emphasis here is on neither anatomy nor costume but on the shades of social nuance present in the gestures and body language. The two halves of the sheet do not share a unified space but create a mise-en-page of simultaneous balance and tension. Although the figures were not used in any known painting, their expressiveness, with sparkling execution and palpable sense of movement, evokes the amorous mood and elegance of a fête galante.’
The present sheet was one of around fifteen drawings by Watteau that were once in the collection of Raoul Dastrac (1891-1969), a painter and collector.
Contat-Desfontaines collection, Paris
Raoul Dastrac, Paris, by 1957
Mme. Roland Lacroix, née Hélène Ryaux
Private collection, France
Anonymous sale (‘Six Drawings by Antoine Watteau from a French Private Collection’), London, Christie’s, 6 July 1999, lot 165
Katrin Bellinger, Munich and London
Acquired from her in 2007 by Saretta Barnet, New York.
K. T. Parker and Jacques Mathey, Antoine Watteau: Catalogue complet de son oeuvre dessiné, Paris, 1957, Vol. II, p.310, no.553, fig.553; Gérard Bauer, Dessins français du dix-huitième siècle: La figure humaine, Paris, 1959, pl.14;Marianne Roland Michel, Watteau: An Artist of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1984, p.136, illustrated in colour p.143, pl.XXIX; Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat, Antoine Watteau: Catalogue raisonné des dessins,Milan, 1996, Vol.II, pp.924-925, no.546; ‘Six Drawings by Antoine Watteau from a French Private Collection (Lots 165-170). Watteau and his Collectors’, in London, Christie’s, Old Master Drawings, 6 July 1999, p.159; Katherine Baetjer, ed., Watteau, Music, and Theater, exhibition catalogue, New York, 2009, pp.76-77, no.27 (entry by Perrin Stein).