Jean Antoine Watteau
- Jean Antoine Watteau
- "Viosseu" or Chinese musician; Chinese woman of Kouei Tchéou: A pair of paintings
- a pair, both oil on canvas
- each: 9 1/4 by 7 1/4 in.; 23.4 by 18.2 cm.
Possibly anonymous sale, Paris 28-29 April 1829, lots 71 and 72 (as lot 71, Antoine Watteau, Composition de deux figures de Chinois, dont l'un joue de la vielle and lot 72, Jeune fille assise dans un jardin; près d'elle est un jeune garcon; Pendant du precedent);
Chinese Musician only: Possibly Bezançon de Wagner;
Chinese Musician only: Anonymous sale, New York, Sotheby's, 11 January 1996, lot 151;
Chinese Woman only: Private collection, Switzerland, 2009; acquired through Sotheby's private treaty sale, November 2009.
Brussels, Palais de Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles, Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). La Leçon de musique, 8 February - 12 May 2013, nos. 125 and 126;
Paris, Musée Jacquemart-André, De Watteau à Fragonard, Les fêtes galantes, 14 March - 21 July, 2014, nos. 10 and 11.
E. Dacier and A. Vuaflart, Jean de Julienne et les graveurs de Watteau, 1921-1922, cat. nos. 232 and 233 (for the engravings after the paintings);
H. Adhémar and R. Huyghe, Watteau, sa vie — son oeuvre, Paris 1950, pp. 203-204, under cat. no. 18 (lost decorations for the Chateau de la Muette; engraving after Chinese Musician reproduced p. 96);
F. Gétreau, "Watteau et sa generation: contribution à la chronologie et à l'identification de deux instruments," in Imago Musicae, 1987, pp. 303, 307 (Chinese Musician only);
P. Stein, "Boucher's chinoiseries: some new sources," in The Burlington Magazine, vol. 138, September 1996, p. 599, note 8 (Chinese Musician only);
M. Eidelberg and S. Gopin, "Watteau's Chinoiseries at La Muette," in Gazette des Beaux-Arts, vol. 130, July/August 1997, p. 26, reproduced fig. 14 (Chinese Musician only; as a copy after the engraving);
N.T. Minty, the Eye of the Beholder: Northern Baroque Paintings from the Collection of Henry H. Weldon, exhibition catalogue, New Orleans 1997, pp. 173-175, reproduced;
M. Roland-Michel, in The Age of Watteau, Chardin and Fragonard. Masterpieces of French Genre Painting, exhibition catalogue, Ottawa 2003, pp. 115-116, reproduced fig. 77 (Chinese Musician only);
K. Scott, "Playing Games with Otherness: Watteau's Chinese Cabinet at the Chateau de La Muette," in Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, vol. 66, 2003, pp.196-197, reproduced fig. 3 (Chinese Musician only; as Attributed to Watteau);
G. Glorieux, Watteau, Paris 2011, pp. 56-58, reproduced p. 57 (Chinese Musician only; as possibly a modello);
N.P. Lallement, in Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). La Leçon de musique, exhibition catalogue, Brussels 2013, pp. 207-208, cat. no. 125 and 126, reproduced;
M.T. Holmes, in De Watteau à Fragonard, Les fêtes galantes, exhibition catalogue, Paris 2014, pp. 58-59,209, cat. nos. 10 and 11, reproduced p. 59 (as circa 1708).
Datable to circa 1708-16, the decoration for La Muette is one of the earliest examples of chinoiserie used in a decorative scheme in France. Watteau’s designs made a profound impact on other artists such as Boucher who took up similar themes in his own work in the 1730s and 1740s. Indeed, Watteau’s La Muette decorations, in their wider dissemination through the series of engravings, have been credited with providing the inspiration for the development of the chinoiserie as a distinct genre in French art.4
Watteau created thirty paintings for the room, twenty six of which were of small rectangular format. Of these twenty six, all depict a single figure in a landscape setting, except the present pair which each has two figures. The titles of the paintings are taken from the published engravings. Viosseu or Chinese Musician depicts a man seated on the ground, wearing a blue robe and pagoda-shaped straw hat. He plays a hurdy-gurdy while a woman behind him listens, leaning her left arm on a low wall. Chinese Woman of Kouei Tchéou portrays a young woman, also seated on the ground, wearing a voluminous rose-colored dressing gown with blue sash. She points at something out of the picture plane with her right hand while looking down to the left. She is accompanied by a child in a blue robe, with shaved head and crossed arms. The figures in both are set against distant, mountainous landscapes and the artist has used a palette of exquisitely subtle shades of blue, green and pink.
In her reconstruction of the cabinet at La Muette, Katie Scott (see Literature) proposes that the small rectangular pictures were arranged in two tiers and that Chinese Musician and Chinese Woman were positioned on the top level, possibly inset above pier-mirrors or overmantles. The trompe l’oeil “gilt” frames on both pictures may have formed part of the decoration or could have been added later after the room had been dismantled in order to transform them into cabinet pictures.5 In addition to the figural paintings by Watteau, it is thought that there were arabesques, most likely painted by Claude III Audran with whom Watteau was working in circa 1708-12.
1. See K. Scott, under Literature, p. 192.
2. Ibid., pp. 192-193.
3. See N. Dezallier d’Argenville, Voyages pittoresques des Evirons de Paris, Paris 1762, pp. 14-16.
4. See P. Stein, under Literature, pp. 599-600.
5. K. Scott, op.cit, p. 196 and note 32.