Antoine Watteau, Study for the Pilgrimage to the Island of Cythera, a drawing

About AD 1716-17

Capturing life

This is drawn in Watteau's typical technique of three coloured chalks: red, black and white. It is one of many studies for Watteau's exquisite painting (now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris), which was submitted for the approval of the French Royal Academy in 1717. It depicts groups of lovers in theatrical costumes about to depart from an idyllic island. This particular couple appear just to the right of centre in the finished painting. The couple was also engraved, after the drawing, by François Boucher.

For the two figures Watteau used mostly black and red chalk, with touches of white to highlight the woman's dress. A strong and firm contour forms the outline of the figures, especially that of the woman. The man, however, has a lighter contour, with some alterations visible as Watteau changed his mind. The man's hat, cape and legs show such alternative ideas. The shading is roughly done in black chalk and there are occasional touches of white.

The positions of these two figures were not altered for the painting. Watteau has captured that split-second moment when the woman is about to rise from the ground helped by her male companion. With an economy of line and vitality of life-drawing, the artist has created one of the finest of his studies for his most important painting.

Next to the head of the man is a rough sketch of a head, perhaps a rapidly abandoned first study.

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More information


J. Rowlands, Master drawings and watercolou (London, The British Museum Press, 1984)

P. Hulton, Watteau: drawings in the Briti (London, The British Museum Press, 1980)

P. Rosenberg and L.A. Prat, Antoine Watteau 1684-1721: cat (Milan, Leonardo Arte, 1996)

M.M. Grasselli and P. Rosenberg, Watteau 1684-1721 (Washington DC, National Gallery of Art, 1984)


Height: 336.000 mm
Width: 226.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1910-2-12-98


Bequeathed by George Salting


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