Some seven other studies relating to this painting and to an earlier variant of the composition, (Pastoral Pleasures, in the Musée Condé, Chantilly) are known, of which the present study and three others can be directly related only to the Berlin version.2 The boy in a hat seen here appears only in the later painting, peering out over the shoulders of the seated lady and gentleman, and looking, with an expression that is a combination of quizzical, indulgent and amused, towards the energetically dancing couple in the center of the scene. Described by Rosenberg and Prat (loc. cit.) as ‘d’un traitement particulièrement incisif’, the drawing is clearly conceived in the knowledge that the figure would be placed behind something, with only his head and shoulders visible, but the study includes the boy’s left hand, which does not appear in the painting. Indeed, the hand is one of the most striking features of the drawing, dynamically executed in red chalk and providing an essential structure and balance, without which the drawing would be far less visually satisfying; it would be very typical of Watteau to include the hand to make the drawing work better in its own right, even if he already knew that the motif would not appear in the final painting.
Of the other related drawings, two are particularly comparable to the present sheet in mood and technique. Especially notable in terms of its originality of pose and virtuoso handling is a stunningly beautiful study for the background figure of the woman on a swing, seen from behind, while another, smaller and more contemplative study of a seated woman, who in the painting becomes the woman in the pearl necklace, turning towards the dancing couple, is also particularly close to the present study in terms of the extensive and brilliant use of graphite in conjunction with the trois crayons.3
Far more than any of his contemporaries, Watteau constantly experimented with different ways of combining the traditional red, black and white chalks,4 and at this relatively late stage in his brief career he also began increasingly to explore the visual potential of graphite (often erroneously referred to as mine de plomb or 'black lead'5), used in conjunction with some or all of the trois crayons. Graphite adds the possibility of dark yet reflective lines and shading, and when it is, as here, used in tandem with judiciously applied passages of red chalk and bold accents in black chalk, the visual richness and variety that the artist achieves is truly extraordinary. Whereas so many other artists used the trois crayons in a much more formulaic way, with red chalk consistently employed in certain parts of the composition and black and white in certain others, Watteau was simply not capable of thinking or working in a formulaic way. In no two drawings does he combine his media in exactly the same way, instead tailoring the combinations very specifically to the type of drawing, sitter, fabric, or scene that he was seeking to capture or create.
Compared with the other, very different drawing by Watteau in the Barnet Collection (lot…), graphite is here more dominant, but is applied in a broader, softer way, in keeping with the much calmer, more thoughtful mood of the paused figure. The red chalk, with which the whole of one figure on the other sheet is constructed, is here used locally, though very powerfully, in the face and hand, and there is no white chalk at all. Yet in another otherwise rather similar drawing, in a private collection, which seems to show the very same boy together with another figure, Watteau has liberally applied red chalk also to the hat - perhaps to make up for the absence of the hand - and has also incorporated significant amounts of white chalk.6
This total mastery of media, and of the subtle variations of their application, lies at the very heart of Watteau’s unparalleled mastery as a draughtsman, and also at the heart of this drawing’s great beauty and power.
1. See Watteau, exhib. cat., op. cit., 1984-85, pp. 375-8, no. P.53.
2. Rosenberg and Prat nos 120, 310, 445, 460, 489, 491 and 557
3. Rosenberg and Prat nos. 310 and 491; the latter sold, London, Sotheby's, 6 July 2010, lot 72
4. L.-A. Prat, ‘‘Resounding Blows’: Notes on Watteau’s Drawing Technique,’ Watteau, The Drawings, exhib. cat., London, Royal Academy of Arts, 2011, pp. 21-25
5. Prat notes (op. cit.,¸p. 23) that there is in fact no lead in this pigment, citing the article: H. Guicharnaud and A. Duval, ‘Une Technique graphique au nom ambigu: la “mine de plomb”,’ Revue des Musées de France. Revue du Louvre, Paris 2010, 3, pp. 41-47
6. Rosenberg and Prat no. 606
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