- Museum number
Scene from 'Don Japhet d'Arménie', figures by a balcony at night lit by the moon
Pen and black ink, brush and black and grey wash, heightened with white gouache, on blue-grey pape, framed by an old mount with cartouche below
- Production date
Height: 220 millimetres
Width: 282 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- This is one from a set of four drawings (Lesur and Aaron D.294 to 297) that illustrate plays, three by Molière and one (this one, D.297) by Scarron, written in 1663. The other drawings are in the Pierpont Morgan Library ('Le Misanthrope'; D.294); Jean Bonna collection, Geneva ('Georges Dandin''; D.295); and in a private collection ('Le Sicilien'; D. 296). The functions of the drawings are not certain. They have traditionally been regarded as for unexecuted illustrations. Lesur and Aaron (whose dating is followed here, see p.104) suggest that they are connected with stagings of the plays, either as ideas for their performance or as records of the same, perhaps related to the duc d'Orléans private theatre, the théatre du Faubourg Saint-Martin, which Pierre decorated in 1754.
Lit.: P. Stein, in exhib.cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and London, BM, 'French Drawings from Clouet to Seurat', 2005, no.249 (with further literature); N. Lesur and O. Aaron, 'Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, 1714 - 1789: premier peintre du roi', Paris, 2009, no.D.297, pp.413-414.
Although Pierre enjoyed an illustrious career, was patronized by the church and the crown, and by 1770 had risen to the highest posts of the official arts establishment, he also, like many history painters of the eighteenth century, produced charming works in the so-called lower genres, from designs for ornament and rustic scenes to book illustrations. This comic night-time scene, of a female servant emptying a chamber pot onto the head of an unsuspecting man on the balcony below her window, is taken from a comedy by Paul Scarron (1610-60), Don Japhet d'Arménie, first published in 1653, and performed at the Comédie Française several times a year up to the time of the Revolution.(n.1)
With the blue of the paper providing a middle tone, Pierre handled the brush in a very painterly way. He employed thinned white gouache to wash the building's façade in moonlight and pick out highlights in the foliage and figures. The inkiest blacks lend contrast to the shadows and foreground details. In 1993 O. Aaron suggested a date of 1760-65 for the present drawing,(n.3) although he and N. Lesur now lean towards an earlier date, which seems much more likely.(n.4) while a definitive study of Pierre's stylistic chronology remains to be done, stylistic comparisons would seem to support a date of c.1750-55).
The BM drawing is one of four known, highly finished illustrations of theatrical scenes by Pierre, all in the same format and with the same technique of black ink, grey wash and white gouache on blue paper. The other three were based on works by Molière (pseudonym of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, 1622-73). Don Jacket and Le Sicilien (fig.1) were sold as a pair in the Villenave sale, where they were acquired by Edmond and Jules de Goncourt in 1848. They were then sold separately, and `Le Sicilien` was later joined by `Le Misanthrope` (fig.2) in the Leboeuf de Mongermont collection (sold 1919). These two were brought together with the third, Georges Danàin (fig.3), in the Razsovich collection (by 1929).(n.2) The three remain together today in a private collection. The function of the series remains elusive: whether they were a commission, models for engravings, or records or designs for actual productions remains to be determined.
Text by P. Stein, 2005 as cited above.
Figs. 1-3 JEAN-BAPTISTE MARIE PIERRE, `Le Sicilien`; `Le Misanthrope`; `Georges Demain`, each pen and black ink, brush and grey wash, heightened with white gouache, on blue grey paper, private collection.
1 P. Scarron, `Don Japhet d'Arménie`, ed. R. Garapon, Paris, 1967, p.XXXI.
2 E. Launay, `Les Frères Goncourt, Collectionneurs de dessins`, Paris, 1991, pp.413-15, under no.251. `Le Sicilien` and `Le Misanthrope` are illustrated in the Leboeuf de Mongermont sale cat., Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 16-19 June 1919 (lots 269-70). Georges Dandin is mentioned in `Le Theatre a Paris (xvne-XVIIIe siècles), 19 March-4 May 1929, Musée Carnavalet, Paris, p.36, no.182.
3 O. Aaron, `Jean-Baptiste Marie Pierre, 1714-1789`, `Cahier du dessin Français`, no.9, Paris , p.18, no.55.
4 They also point to Pierre's involvement with the Duc d'Orléans's private theatre in 1754; correspondence, 10 September 2004.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2002 April-June, Nagoya, Aichi Prefectural Mus of Art, 'French Drawings from the BM'
2002 July-Sep, Tokyo, NM of Western Art, 'French Drawings from the BM'
2005/6 Nov-Jan, New York, Met Mus of Art, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 49
2006 June-Oct, BM, Clouet to Seurat/BM, no. 49
- Associated titles
Associated Title: Don Japhet D'Arménie
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- From Sotheby's, 4.v.1938, lot 88, 'the property of a well-known family of collectors', where purchased by Colnaghi and offered at a 5% mark-up to the BM. The collection consisted entirely of XVIIIc French and Italian drawings, and most probably belonged to a French family.
This item has an uncertain or incomplete provenance for the years 1933-45. The British Museum welcomes information and assistance in the investigation and clarification of the provenance of all works during that era.
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number