- Museum number
Studies of three standing men, one of them holding a standard, hands and a man's head in a halter
Verso: Study of plants and grasses with buildings in the background; hart's tongue fern in the foreground with grasses between, the upper portion and roof of a building behind at centre
Black chalk and grey wash
- Production date
Height: 183 millimetres
Width: 238 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The standard-bearer, the man holding a basin, the head in a halter and the uppermost hand are related to Watteau's early painting 'Assassins maudits' of c.1711. The verso plant studies, perhaps of a few years later according to Prat and Rosenberg (a view queried by Roland Michel), are from a small group of landscape drawings apparently done 'en plein air'.
Lit.: P. Rosenberg and L.-A. Prat, 'Antoine Watteau, 1684-1721. Catalogue raisonné des dessins', Milan, 1996, no.136 (with further literature); M. Roland Michel, review of Rosenberg and Prat, 'Antoine Watteau', 'The Burlington Magazine', 140, November 1988, p.751, fig.43; J. Labbé and L. Bicart-Sée, 'La collection de dessins d'Antoine-Joseph Dezallier d'Argenville: reconstituée d'après son abrégé de la vie des plus fameux peintres, édition de 1762', Paris, 1996, p.324; P. Stein, in exhib.cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and London, BM, 'French Drawings from Clouet to Seurat', 2005, no.38 (with previous literature); I. Seligman, 'Lines of Thought', London, 2016, no. 50, p. 92 (verso).
Antoine Watteau's birth, training and early career situated him at the margins of the Paris arts establishment. The son of a Flemish roofer in Valenciennes, Watteau found employment in the French capital first as a mass-production copyist and then in the workshops of Claude Gillot (see no .37) and Claude Audran III (1658-1734), the latter a designer of ornament for palace interiors. He died young, was plagued by poor health and worked in what the official arts establishment considered a 'lower genre'; yet he became perhaps the most influential French artist of the eighteenth century. Moreover, his renown owed as much to his drawings as to his paintings.
The style of the red chalk studies on the recto of this sheet, with their clear and careful delineation of the figures and their contours, reveals a date very early in the artist's career, perhaps before his acceptance into the Academy in 1712.(n.1) The standard-bearer, the lightly sketched man holding a basin, the head in a yoke and the uppermost hand all appear in `What Have I Done, Cursed Assassins?` (Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow),(n.2) suggesting that, unlike his later practice of assembling groups of figures from his sketchbooks to people his landscapes, Watteau at this stage was working in a more conventional manner - making a sheet of studies with a specific composition in mind.(n.3) Although set in a landscape, the painting, with its tableau-like arrangement and humorous subject of a patient in a graveyard attempting to flee a doctor and his menacing band of assistants, may have been inspired by a theatrical production.
The study of plants on the verso dates, on the basis of style, several years later.(n.4) It is one of a very small surviving group of tree or plant studies apparently done en plein air.(n.5) In his biography of the artist the Comte de Caylus described Watteau as drawing 'sans cesse' the trees in the Luxembourg garden, a place that attracted landscapists for its variety of views and light effects.(n.6) One can almost picture the artist sitting or lying on the ground to study this clump of ferns at eye level, although the grasses and distant houses suggest a sunny meadow, which would be an odd setting for hart's tongue fern, which is more normally found in damp shade. More numerous, however, at least among the extant sheets, are his red chalk copies after the landscape drawings of earlier masters, especially the Venetian artists he encountered in the collection of Pierre Crozat. His paintings seem more indebted to these second-hand views of Italy than to his own nature studies, which may have been done primarily for his own pleasure - an idea supported by their unusual experimentation in medium. Indeed, the present `Study of Hart's Tongue Fern` is the only known example in Watteau's oeuvre combining black chalk and dark grey wash.
The inscription, numbers and paraph on the recto and verso of this sheet were long associated with Pierre Crozat,(n.7) although more recent scholarship has identified these marks with Antoine-Joseph Dezallier d'Argenville, collector and author of an insightful art historical work, `Abrégé de la vie des peintres` (first ed. 1745), which discussed drawings not only in terms of their school and attribution, but also divided them by function.(n.8)
Red chalk (recto); blade chalk and grey wash (verso)
Text by P. Stein, 2005 as cited above
1 Grasselli assigned a date of c.1711-12 to the sheet in 1987 (p.454); Rosenberg and Prat concurred in 1996, op.cit., (l, p.216).
2 See Posner, 1984, pp.53-4, fig.46.
3 A second preparatory drawing is known from a surviving counterproof; see Grasselli, 1987,1, pp.136-7, no.60, fig.126.
4 Rosenberg and Prat, 1996, I, p.216 suggest c.1714-15.
5 See Grasselli, `The Drawings of Antoine Watteau: Stylistic Development and Problems of Chronology', Harvard, 1987, I, pp.230-1, and Rosenberg-Prat, 1996, op.cit., 1, pp.220-1, 516-17, nos 138 and 321.
6 See Pierre Rosenberg, `Vies anciennes de Watteau`, Paris, 1984, pp.61-2.
7 This despite the fact that the drawing had been engraved in the crayon manner as part of a set of six by Jean-Charles François (1717-69) known to be after works in the Dezallier d'Argenville collection; see Emile Dacier and Albert Vuaflart, `Jean de Jullienne et les Graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe siècle`, Paris, I, 1929, pp.192-3.
8 His contribution is discussed in P. Rosenberg, `From Drawing to Painting: Poussin, Watteau, Fragonard, David and Ingres`, Princeton, 2000, pp.66-95. Dezallier D'Argenville's collection is the subject of Labbé and Bicart-Sée, 1996, op.cit.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1979, BM, Flowers in art from East and West, I14. (verso)
1980, BM, 'Watteau Drawings in the BM', no. 11
1984 Jun-Sep, Washington, NGA, 'Watteau', no. 16
2005/6 Nov-Jan, New York, Met Mus of Art, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 38
2006 June-Oct, BM, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 38
2016 3 Sep - 6 Nov, Poole Museum, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 50 (verso)
2017 1 Jan - 25 Feb, The Brynmor Jones Library Art Gallery, University of Hull, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 50 (verso)
2017 12 Mar - 5 May, Ulster Museum, Belfast, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 50 (verso)
2017 May - Sep, New Mexico Museum of Art, Santa Fe, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 50 (verso)
2017-2018 Oct - Jan, RISD Museum, Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, 'Lines of thought: Drawing from Michelangelo to now', no. 50 (verso)
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- The paraph L. 2951 was formerly associated with Pierre Crozat but it now known to be that of d'Argenville, see J. Labbé and L.Bicart-Sée, 'Antoine-Joseph Dezallier d'Argenville as a collector of drawings', "Master Drawings", XXV, 3, Autumn 1987, pp. 276-81
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number