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.
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