Whether on this large scale or in his more usual, slightly more precisely worked drawings, such as lot 72, Watteau is always the absolute master of flickering light, which not only pleases the eye but animates his figures of every type. Here, this lively sense is reinforced by the man's keenly focussed gaze, and humourous turn of the lip. Also significant is the way in which the artist has employed sparing touches of graphite, in conjunction with the red and black chalks in which this study is primarily executed. The very different surface effect of graphite was something that Watteau explored and exploited with great effect in many of his drawings, and the Study of a Seated Woman, lot 72, is a superb example of this. In the present drawing, although there are only a very few touches of graphite, they are characteristically telling: perhaps the most obvious of these touches are to be found, underneath the black chalk, in the figure's eyebrow, giving extra depth and sense of movement - and movement in an eyebrow brings with it animation and humour.
Rosenberg and Prat propose a dating around 1715-1716. During this period, Watteau made some of his most extraordinarily dynamic, expressive drawings, several of which are very comparable to the present work in terms of handling. Though a very different drawing in terms of subject, in its technique the magnificent Three Studies of a Young Girl Wearing a Hat, executed in December 1716 and now in the collection of Ann and Gordon Getty, shares many qualities with the present drawing, as do two vibrant figure studies of a Satyr and a Nude Man (Jupiter), in the Courtauld Institute and the Louvre, respectively, both of which are dated by Rosenberg and Prat to very slightly later, circa 1717.1
Various authors have suggested that this drawing shows the same man as another in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,2 a study for the painting of Mezzetin in the same museum, and that the man in question may have been the comédien Roccoboni, but Rosenberg and Prat do not accept this theory. Indeed, although the form of the mouth in both drawings is fairly similar, the link does seem tenuous. Rosenberg and Prat also reject the suggested connection between this head study and the figure of a standing faun in the background of the Portrait of Antoine de La Roque (fig. 1).3
1. Rosenberg and Prat, op. cit., nos. 438, 374 and 375 respectively
2. Rosenberg and Prat, op. cit., no, 615
3. Tokyo, Fuji Art Museum.
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