Antoine Watteau, Three studies of open hands, a drawing

France, about AD 1717-18

The hands are clearly drawn from life, in light but persistent parallel lines of red and black chalks. The palms and fingers are fully formed and complete, but the knuckles and nails are treated more broadly. The drawing's expression lies in the position of the hand and not so much in its details. Although the hands are fully modelled there is still a stark, bare quality to them. They are economical, almost abstracted.

This is a rare type of drawing by Watteau, who used black chalk to strengthen the shadows and the darker lines of the stronger contours. The hands themselves are cast into relief by their shadows on the paper. The red chalks, of course, suggests the real flesh of the model in front of him, and was a favoured technique, in combination with black and white chalks, of French eighteenth-century artists.

The two studies on the left and in the centre were used for figures of clowns in Watteau's painting of 1719-20, The Italian Comedians (National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC). This also contains a figure lifting a curtain, sketched on the back of the same sheet of paper as the hands. Similar hands appear in other paintings by Watteau; the Promenade, formerly in the Heugel Collection, the Divertissements champêtres in the Wallace Collection, and the Leçon d'amour, now known through an engraving.

Find in the collection online

More information


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: 148.000 mm
Width: 225.000 mm

Museum number

PD 1875-6-12-558



Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore