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The Artistic Heritage of Modena: At the Origin of the Galleria Estense


The French Comedians

Antoine Watteau (French, Valenciennes 1684–1721 Nogent-sur-Marne)

Oil on canvas
22 1/2 x 28 3/4 in. (57.2 x 73 cm)
Credit Line:
The Jules Bache Collection, 1949
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    In 1731, the painting was engraved with the title "French Comedians, playing a tragi-comedy." The principal male figure wears a formal costume: a hat with plumes, a wig, and a fringed, skirted silver garment lavishly embroidered with palmettes. In the eighteenth century this costume would have been appropriate for a subject from antiquity. The hero's silk stockings and red boots draw attention to his bowed legs and skinny ankles. The heroine dismisses him, referring to the crumpled letter on the floor. The scene is imaginary as Crispin, entering from the right, represents a different vernacular theatrical tradition and in reality would never have taken the stage at the same time.

  • Catalogue Entry

    Watteau did not participate in public exhibitions, nor title his pictures, whose meaning is often difficult to fathom. This late work is clearly a theatrical subject, and as he is known to have made drawings of comic actors and quacks from an early age, he must have been interested in the theater throughout his short life. In December 1731, ten years after he died, the Paris journal "Mercure de France" announced the publication of an engraving after the painting, calling it "des Comédiens François, représentant une tragi-comédie," or "some French comedians, performing a tragicomedy." The print, by Jean Michel Liotard (1702–1796), which was issued later, is inscribed in French and Latin with the title by which the picture is still known.

    Early eighteenth-century Paris was alive with theater. The Comédie Française staged two plays a day, alternating tragic and comic subjects, during the season. While the Comédie Italienne had been dismissed and their theater closed in 1697, many of the disenfranchised actors performed with itinerant companies at the various fairs in and on the outskirts of the city. Watteau is known to have been acquainted with the comic actor Paul Poisson (1658–1735) of the Comédie Française, who was among the most famous interpreters of the role of Crispin, a lugubrious and interfering manservant. Here Crispin climbs the stairs from the formal garden in the background at the lower right. He is a heavy-set figure wearing, as usual, a black suit and hat, a wide leather belt, leather gloves, and a sword at his waist. However, generally speaking, Watteau did not paint portraits, but rather from the model, and there is no compelling evidence for identifying Paul Poisson as the sitter here.

    The principal figure wears a formal costume of a sort Watteau rarely depicted: its old-fashioned style looks back to the reign of Louis XIV (1638–1715) and the operatic designs of Jean I Berain (1640–1711). In the eighteenth century this costume—the plumed hat, wig, and fringed, skirted silver garment lavishly embroidered with palmettes—would have been understood as appropriate for a subject from antiquity. It is impossible to tell whether the gestural language suggests tragedy or absurdity or whether, as seems likely, Watteau intended to leave his audience in a state of uncertainty.


  • Provenance

    Federick the Great, King of Prussia, Royal Palace, Potsdam (probably from about 1746, but by at least 1756–d. 1786); the Prussian royal family, Old Palace, Berlin; the German imperial family, New Palace, Potsdam (until 1888); Kaiser Wilhelm [William II, King of Prussia], Berlin (1888–1927; abdicated in 1918 and fled to Doorn, The Netherlands; this picture remained in Germany and was sold through Hugo Moser to Duveen); [Duveen, Paris, London, and New York, 1927–28; sold for $275,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1928–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 55; 1943, no. 54)

  • Exhibition History

    Berlin. Königliche Akademie der Künste. "Gemälden älterer Meister im Berliner Privatbesitz," 1883, no. 8 [see Dohme 1883 and Rosenberg 1984].

    Berlin. Königliche Akademie der Künste. "Ausstellung von Werken Französischer Kunst des XVIII. Jahrhunderts," January 26–March 6, 1910, no. 88 (im besitz Seiner Majestät des Kaisers und Königs).

    London. 25 Park Lane. "Three French Reigns," February 21–April 5, 1933, no. 45 (lent by Jules S. Bache).

    San Francisco. California Palace of the Legion of Honor. "French Painting from the Fifteenth Century to the Present Day," June 8–July 8, 1934, no. 58 (lent by Jules S. Bache, New York).

    Paris. Bibliothèque Nationale. "Troisième centenaire de l'Académie Française," June 1935, no. 949 (lent by Jules S. Bache, New York).

    Copenhagen. Charlottenborg Palace. "Exposition de l'art français au XVIIIe siècle / Udstillingen af frankrigs kunst fra det XVIII. aarhundrede," August 25–October 6, 1935, no. 261 (lent by Jules S. Bache, New York).

    Paris. Palais National des Arts. "Chefs d'œuvre de l'art français," July–September 1937, no. 230 (lent by Jules S. Bache, New York).

    New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800," May–October 1939, no. 406 (lent by the Jules S. Bache Collection, New York).

    New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European & American Paintings, 1500–1900," May–October 1940, no. 212 (lent by the Bache Collection, New York).

    New York. Parke-Bernet. "French and English Art Treasures of the XVIII Century," December 20–30, 1942, no. 68 (lent by the Jules S. Bache Collection) [This exhibition was not held under the auspices of Parke-Bernet; the galleries were lent out.].

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 54.

    Philadelphia Museum of Art. "Diamond Jubilee Exhibition: Masterpieces of Painting," November 4, 1950–February 11, 1951, no. 50.

    Washington. National Gallery of Art. "Watteau, 1684–1721," June 17–September 23, 1984, no. 70.

    Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Watteau, 1684–1721," October 23, 1984–January 28, 1985, no. 70.

    Berlin. Schloss Charlottenburg. "Watteau, 1684–1721," February 23–May 27, 1985, no. 121.

    Munich. Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung. "Friedrich der Große: Sammler und Mäzen," November 28, 1992–February 28, 1993, no. 84.

    Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne," June 23–November 12, 2006, no. 33.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Watteau, Music, and Theater," September 22–November 29, 2009, no. 14.

  • References

    Mercure de France 2 (December 1731), p. 3091 [see Ref. Dacier and Vuaflart, vol. 3, 1922, p. 95], announces the publication of the engraving after this picture and describes it as ". . . des Comédiens François, représentant une tragi-comédie . . .".

    L'oeuvre d'Antoine Watteau . . . gravé d'après les tableaux et desseins originaux . . . par les soins de M. de Julienne [called the "Recueil Jullienne"]. Paris, 1735, vol. 1, unpaginated, folio 20 [the engraving by Liotard as bound in copy in MMA Drawings and Prints Departments], as "Comédiens François . . . haut de 1. pied 10. pouces sur 2. pieds 4. pouces de large. Du Cabinet de Mr. de Jullienne . . . ".

    Matthieu Oesterreich. Description de tout l'intérieur des deux palais de Sans-Souci, de ceux de Potsdam, et de Charlottenbourg . . . Potsdam, 1773, p. 107, no. 544, lists this work as "Représentation d'une tragédie".

    Friedrich Nicolai. Beschreibung der königlichen Residenzstädte Berlin und Potsdam. 3rd ed. Berlin, 1786, vol. 3, p. 1145, refers to it as "Vorstellung eines Trauerspiels" in a small gallery in the palace at Potsdam.

    J[ohann]. D[aniel]. F[riedrich]. Rumpf. Berlin und Potsdam: eine vollständige Darstellung der merkwürdigsten Gegenstände. 2, Berlin, 1803, p. 61.

    P. Hédouin. "Watteau: Catalogue de son oeuvre." L'Artiste, 4th ser., 5 (November 30, 1845), p. 79, no. 73, as "Comédiens français".

    P. Hédouin. Mosaique: Peintres, musiciens, littérateurs, artistes dramatiques, a partir du 15e siècle jusqu'à nos jours. Paris, 1856, p. 102, no. 74.

    Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. Journal entry. May 8, 1859 [published in "Journal: Mémoires de la vie littéraire, 1851–1863," ed. Robert Ricatte, Paris, 1956, pp. 601–2], describe the composition as having "le sens . . . de la tragédie . . . d'un Racine".

    Le Tombeau de Watteau à Nogent-sur-Marne: Notice historique sur la vie et la mort d'Antoine Watteau sur l'érection et l'inauguration du monument élevé par souscription en 1865. Nogent-sur-Marne, 1865, p. 31.

    Edmond de Goncourt. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, dessiné et gravé d'Antoine Watteau. Paris, 1875, p. 64, no. 64, cites Dohme, librarian of Frederick II, who considers the costumes only lightly sketched in by the artist and poorly restored, and states that the picture is in the Salon Rouge of the Old Palace, Berlin.

    R. Dohme. "Zur Literatur über Antoine Watteau." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 11 (1876), p. 90, no. 8, as in the Berlin Palace; describes the picture as probably an "Atelierbild" with some retouches by the master; notes that it has been heavily overpainted and restored; gives the dimensions as 73 x 58 cm.

    L. Dussieux. Les artistes français a l'étranger. 3rd ed. Paris, 1876, p. 222.

    Robert Dohme in Robert Dohme. Kunst und Künstler des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit. part 3, Leipzig, 1880, p. 8.

    Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. 1, 3rd ed. Paris, 1880, p. 17.

    R. Dohme. "Die Französische Schule des XVIII. Jahrhunderts, 1. Antoine Watteau." Jahrbuch der königlich preussischen Kunstsammlungen 4 (1883), pp. 240–42, dates it 1718–20; wonders if it is not simply a group of theatrical figures in various expressive poses.

    John W. Mollett. Watteau. London, 1883, p. 62, no. 64.

    Adolf Rosenberg. "Die Ausstellung von Werken älterer Meister in Berlin." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 18 (1883), p. 358.

    Charles Ephrussi. "Exposition d'oeuvres de maîtres anciens tirées des collections privées de Berlin en 1883." Gazette des beaux-arts, 2nd ser., 30 (1884), p. 102, as painted between 1718 and 1720.

    Paul Mantz. "Watteau (6e et dernier article)." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 3 (March 1890), p. 232.

    G. Dargenty [Arthur d'Echérac]. Antoine Watteau. Paris, 1891, ill. p. 95 (engraving), as in the Old Palace in Berlin.

    Paul Mantz. Antoine Watteau. Paris, 1892, p. 186.

    Claude Phillips. Antoine Watteau. London, 1895, p. 72, describes the picture as a companion piece to Watteau's "Comédiens Italiens" and an invaluable document, "since it evidently gives faithfully the pompous Louis-Quatorzian tragedy costumes à la Bérain, as then still worn".

    Adolf Rosenberg. Antoine Watteau. Bielefeld, 1896, p. 76.

    Gaston Schéfer. "Les portraits dans l'oeuvre de Watteau." Gazette des beaux-arts, 3rd ser., 16 (1896), p. 186, notes the presence of Crispin (at right), a role played by Paul Poisson.

    Jean-J. Marquet de Vasselot. "Frédéric II, amateur d'art français." Figaro illustré, 2nd ser., no. 127 (October 1900), p. 214 n. 1, ill. p. 221.

    Paul Seidel. Les collections d'oeuvres d'art françaises du XVIIIe siècle appartenant à sa majesté l'empereur d'Allemagne, roi de Prusse. Berlin, 1900, pp. 147–48, no. 157, ill. p. 36 (drawing by Peter Halm of the two principal figures), as in the New Palace, Potsdam.

    L. de Fourcaud. "Antoine Watteau." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 10 (October 1901), p. 251, ill. opp. p. 252 (Liotard engraving).

    Edgcumbe Staley George Bell and Sons. Watteau and His School. London, 1902, p. 136.

    Virgile Josz. Watteau: Mœurs du XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1903, pp. 201–2.

    L. de Fourcaud. "Antoine Watteau, scènes et figures théatrales." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 15 (January–June 1904), pp. 148–50, suggests the picture is an ironic juxtaposition of the conventions of French theater with the naturalism of its Italian counterpart; tentatively identifies the heroine as "la Duclos" of the Comédie-Française.

    Virgile Josz. Antoine Watteau. Paris, [1904], p. 166.

    Émile Dacier. Le Musée de la Comédie-française, 1680–1905. Paris, 1905, pp. 47–48, ill. opp. p. 40 (engraving), supports Fourcaud's [Ref. 1904] view that the actress is Duclos, noting that Watteau made drawings of Poisson, Dumirail, and Mlle Desmares of the Comédie-Française that were subsequently engraved by Desplaces.

    Gemälde alter Meister im Besitze Seiner Majestät des deutschen Kaisers und Königs von Preussen. Berlin, [1906], pp. 134–37, ill. opp. p. 136.

    Paul Alfassa. "L'exposition d'art français du XVIIIe siècle à Berlin." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 27 (January–June 1910), pp. 167–69, ill.

    Gabriel Mourey. "Une Exposition d'art français du XVIIIe siècle à Berlin." Revue de Paris 2 (March–April 1910), pp. 570, 572, 576.

    Paul Seidel in Ausstellung von Werken Französischer Kunst des XVIII. Jahrhunderts. Exh. cat., Königliche Akademie der Künste. Berlin, 1910, pp. 15–16, 40, no. 147, ill.

    Jean-Louis Vaudoyer. "Exposition d'oeuvres de l'art français au XVIIIe siècle." Les arts no. 103 (July 1910), pp. 12, 14, 16.

    Edmond Pilon. Watteau et son école. Brussels, 1912, pp. 70, 98–99, 113, 150, observes that the gestures of the characters suggest a tragedy in the manner of Racine, such as Bérénice or Andromaque.

    François Thiébault-Sisson. "Les Watteau de l'empereur d'Allemagne." La Vie artistique (February 11, 1912), p. 3.

    E. Heinrich Zimmermann. Watteau: Des Meisters Werke. Stuttgart, 1912, pp. 189, 196, pls. 101–2 (overall and detail), as from about 1719–21.

    André Maurel. L'Enseigne de Gersaint: Étude sur le tableau de Watteau, son histoire—les controverses, solution du problème. Paris, 1913, p. 2.

    Raymond Bouyer. "La Question des oeuvres d'art et les tableaux français du roi de Prusse (Suite et fin)." Le Cousin Pons 4 (February 1, 1919), p. 433.

    Émile Dacier. "Les premiers amateurs de Watteau en France." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 40 (June–December 1921), pp. 118, 120, ill. p. 129.

    Émile Dacier and Albert Vuaflart. "Catalogue." Jean de Jullienne et les graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe siècle. 3, Paris, 1922, p. 95, no. 205 (the engraving), erroneously convert the dimensions provided on the engraving, 1 pied 10 pouces x 2 pieds 4 pouces, to 59.4 x 85.6 cm [rather than 75.6; see Ref. Rosenberg et al. 1984]; state that Jullienne sold the picture to Frederick the Great.

    Émile Dacier and Albert Vuaflart. "Historique." Jean de Jullienne et les graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe siècle. 2, Paris, 1922, pp. 35, 63, 95, 97–98, 130, 142, 162.

    Edmund Hildebrandt. Antoine Watteau. Berlin, 1922, pp. 49–50, ill.

    Paul Seidel. Friedrich der Grosse und die bildende Kunst. Leipzig, 1922, pp. 161–62, discusses Friedrich's acquisition of paintings by Watteau through Graf Rothenburg in Paris, possibly including this work.

    C. F. Foerster. Das neue Palais bei Potsdam. Berlin, 1923, p. 61.

    Max Aghion. Le théâtre à Paris au XVIIIe siècle. [Paris], [1926], ill. p. 109 (Liotard engraving).

    Louis Réau in Les peintres français du XVIIIe siècle: Histoire des vies et catalogue des oeuvres. 1, Paris, 1928, p. 34, no. 53.

    A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill., observes that "M. Couet, Librarian of the Comédie Française, believes that the two figures standing 'en face' are Mdlle. Duclos and M. Beaubourg respectively; the actor mounting the stairs being Paul Poisson, in the familiar part of Crispin"; adds that the artist "wished to express . . . the different manifestations of Tragedy and Comedy in France during his time".

    de Caylus. Le gaulois artistique (January 9, 1929), p. 108.

    Émile Dacier, Albert Vuaflart, and Jacques Herold. "Notices et documents biographiques." Jean de Jullienne et les graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe siècle. 1, Paris, 1929, pp. 64, 240, 264, no. 205, believe that Watteau depicts the different genres performed by the Comédie-Française: the actors in the foreground wear the noble costumes of tragedy, while Scapin [sic for Crispin?] represents both French and Italian comedy; claims that the only play of the period that includes the theme of torn letters thrown to the ground is Molière's "Dépit amoureux" (act IV, scene 3), in which Éraste tears up a letter of Lucile's and vice versa; observe that Frederick the Great's representative in France, the comte de Rothenbourg, was actively purchasing works by Watteau between 1744 and 1746.

    K. T. Parker. The Drawings of Antoine Watteau. London, 1931, p. 46, identifies the male head in a drawing in the British Museum (Studies of Heads, pl. 62) as "clearly the same face as that of Crispin" in this painting.

    R. H. Wile[n]ski. French Painting. Boston, 1931, p. 107.

    Exposition de l'art français au XVIIIe siècle. Exh. cat., Charlottenborg Palace. Copenhagen, 1935, p. 81, no. 261.

    Troisième centenaire de l'Académie Française. Exh. cat., Bibliothèque Nationale. [Paris], [1935], pp. 186–87, no. 949, observes that the scene appears to be from Racine's "Andromaque".

    A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 55, ill.

    Robert Burnand in Chefs d'œuvre de l'art français. Paris, 1937, vol. 1, pp. 201–3, no. 76, ill., believes a scene from Andromaque is represented here.

    Charles Sterling in Chefs d'œuvre de l'art français. Exh. cat., Palais National des Arts. Paris, 1937, pp. 114–15, no. 230, dates it probably about 1715–16.

    Gilbert W. Barker. Antoine Watteau. London, 1939, pp. 137–38.

    Jacues Mathey. Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français (1939), p. 152, comments on Watteau's habit of taking up a theme at different periods in his life, using the "Spectacle français" [engraving in Ref. Dacier and Vuaflart, Planches, 1921, no. 294] and this picture as cases in point; calls the former early and this one late; states that both works depict a scene from Molière's "Dépit amoureux".

    George Henry McCall. Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800: Masterpieces of Art. Exh. cat., World's Fair. New York, 1939, pp. 199–200, no. 406, pl. 81.

    Walter Pach in Masterpieces of Art: Catalogue of European and American Paintings, 1500–1900. Exh. cat., World's Fair. New York, 1940, p. 144, no. 212, ill.

    Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941, unpaginated, no. 238, ill., as painted about 1700 [sic].

    Henry de Courcy May. "The Spirit of the Eighteenth Century." Art News 41 (December 15–31, 1942), ill. pp. 20–21 (color).

    Hans Vollmer in Allgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. 35, Leipzig, 1942, p. 194, dates it during the time of Watteau's trip to England [1719–20].

    A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 54, ill.

    A. E. Brinckmann. J. A. Watteau. Vienna, 1943, pp. 29, 60, figs. 60–61 (overall and detail).

    Harry B. Wehle. "The Bache Collection on Loan." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (June 1943), p. 286.

    Margaret Breuning. "Metropolitan Re-Installs Its Treasures in Attractive Settings." Art Digest 18 (June 1, 1944), p. 6.

    Xavier de Courville. Un apôtre de l'art du théâtre au XVIIIème siècle, Luigi Riccoboni dit Lélio, Tome II (1716–1731): L'expérience française. 2, Paris, 1945, p. 196 n. 5.

    Millia Davenport. The Book of Costume. New York, 1948, vol. 2, p. 664, no. 1781, ill.

    Michel Florisoone. La peinture française: Le dix-huitième siècle. Paris, 1948, p. 36.

    Hélène Adhémar. Watteau, sa vie — son œuvre. Paris, 1950, pp. 50, 119, 121, 231, no. 212, pls. 147 (black and white detail) and 148 (overall, in color), dates it 1720–21 and suggests that a painting offered to the Louvre in 1858, "Les célébrités dramatiques de l'époque," may have been a replica; identifies the actor climbing the stairs as Poisson.

    René Huyghe in Hélène Adhémar. Watteau, sa vie — son œuvre. Paris, 1950, p. 50, in his preface, identifies the MMA picture as the pendant to the "Italian Comedians".

    Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), p. 37, ill.

    Charles Sterling. "XV–XVIII Centuries." The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. 1, Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 102–5, ill., comments that identification of the performers is purely hypothetical; notes that comparison with Liotard's engraving indicates that the picture has been cut down more at the top and bottom than at the sides; calls it an example of Watteau's very late style, painted shortly before or after his trip to London.

    Jacques Mathey. "Une feuille d'études pour le 'Gilles' et le 'Mezzetin à la guitare' de Watteau." Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst, 3rd ser., 7 (1956), p. 212.

    K. T. Parker and J. Mathey. Antoine Watteau: Catalogue complet de son œuvre dessiné. Paris, 1957, vol. 1, p. 18; vol. 2, p. 316, reproduce a drawing "Personnages de comédie," (vol. 1, no. 117, Hessisches Museum, Darmstadt), as a first idea for Watteau's "Spectacle français" (preserved in an engraving, see Ref. Dacier and Vuaflart 1921, no. 294), which is in turn a precedent for the MMA picture; identify the head of a man in the British Museum's "Quatre études de femmes" (vol. 2, no. 615) as Paul Poisson in the role of Crispin, and the model for his head in this painting; find the "Tête d'homme" (vol. 2, no. 753, Eccles collection, London) analogous to the head of the actor at the center of our painting; [for the "Tête de gentilhomme" (p. 383, no. 940, Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris), mention only that this is the same model as in no. 753, possibly Jean de Jullienne].

    J. Mathey. Antoine Watteau: Peintures réapparues . . . Paris, 1959, p. 69.

    Albert P. de Mirimonde. "Les sujets musicaux chez Antoine Watteau." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 58 (November 1961), p. 273, sees the picture as a parody of the pompous costumes, exaggerated performance and emphatic declamation of the Comédiens français.

    Meisterwerke aus den Schlössern Friedrichs des Grossen. Exh. cat., Schloss Charlottenburg. Berlin, 1962, p. 64, no. 144.

    Colin Eisler. "Two Immortalized Landscapes—Watteau and the Recueil Jullienne." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 24 (January 1966), pp. 166, 169, ill.

    René Gimpel. Diary of an Art Dealer. English ed. New York, 1966, p. 351.

    Anita Brookner. Watteau. London, 1967, p. 40, colorpl. 45, as painted in 1720 as the pendant to the "Italian Comedians"; accepts the identification of the three main characters as Duclos, Beaubourg, and Poisson.

    Ettore Camesasca in The Complete Paintings of Watteau. New York, 1968, p. 124, no. 206, ill. p. 121 and colorpl. 59, observes that "the picture may have taken a long time to reach its full elaboration, possibly from 1717–21, as Mathey suggests"; notes that serious fading makes it difficult to judge.

    Calvin Tomkins. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1970, p. 316 [rev., enl. ed., 1989].

    Jean Ferré. Watteau. Madrid, [1972], vol. 1, chronology, under 1731; vol. 2, p. 485 (Liotard engraving); vol. 3, p. 956, no. B 22, figs. 815–16 (overall and detail).

    Saint-Paulien in Jean Ferré. Watteau. Madrid, [1972], vol. 1, pp. 24, 214, 220, suggests it may be by Antoine Coypel, and possibly finished by his son Charles-Antoine Coypel.

    Yvonne Boerlin-Brodbeck Universität Basel. Antoine Watteau und das Theater. 1973, pp. 23, 124–38, 141, 151, 179, 200–202, 214, 219, 243, 259, 261, 299–304, 311, 315, 336, sees it as a composite of two scenes from Molière's "Dépit amoureux".

    Martin Eidelberg. "Watteau Paintings in England in the Early Eighteenth Century." Burlington Magazine (September 1975), p. 578.

    Donald Posner. "Jean Ferré, et al., 'Watteau,' 4 vols., Madrid . . . 1972." Art Bulletin 57 (June 1975), p. 292.

    Edward Fowles. Memories of Duveen Brothers. London, 1976, p. 176.

    Colin Eisler. "European Schools Excluding Italian." Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. 4, London, 1977, pp. 302–3, 305, as the pendant to the "Italian Comedians", but considers it possible that the latter "may well prove to be an excellent, very early copy".

    Anita Brookner. Jacques-Louis David. New York, 1980, p. 18, suggests that this picture burlesques the exaggerations of the French classical stage.

    Norman Bryson. Word and Image: French Painting of the Ancien Régime. Cambridge, 1981, pp. 75–76, 78, ill.

    Marianne Roland Michel. Tout Watteau: La peinture. Paris, 1982, p. 88, no. 245, ill.

    François Moureau in Margaret Morgan Grasselli and Pierre Rosenberg. Watteau, 1684–1721. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1984, pp. 517–18, 525, ill. (details), notes that the figures are depicted "in the midst of a theatrical architecture in the style of the 'instant palaces' created by the Comédie-Française decorators"; reproduces a costume drawing, "The Heroic Character," from the school of Bérain (Louvre, Paris) with many points in common with the costume of the protagonist.

    Donald Posner. Antoine Watteau. Ithaca, N.Y., 1984, pp. 10, 266, 291 nn. 65–66, colorpl. 56, doubts the picture was a pendant to the "Italian Comedians," as it differs in size, history, and conception; notes that the fact that a dramatic text that explains the MMA picture has not yet been found cannot be viewed as evidence that Watteau "concocted a scene" here; finds the main figures "so highly personalized as they go about the business of acting that one feels one is really looking at great luminaries of the stage".

    Marianne Roland Michel. Watteau: An Artist of the Eighteenth Century. New York, 1984, pp. 89, 177, 179, 185, 266, ill. pp. 91 (detail), 180, 184 (color).

    Pierre Rosenberg et al. in Watteau, 1684–1721. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1984, pp. 172, 178, 436–40, 477, 489, 546, 551, no. 70, ill. p. 437 (color), observes that 2 cm are missing today on the right and that nearly 3 cm were removed at the top and bottom, preventing us from seeing the fleur-de-lis [visible in the engraving]; notes that this ornament, the architecture, and marble flooring suggest "more the actual appearance of Versailles than a stage set"; calls the drawing of a man's head in the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris (Parker/Mathey, 1957, no. 940) a study for the face of the principal figure, but believes that P/M no. 753 shows too many differences to be a study for this same figure; finds the pairing of this picture with the "Italian Comedians" untenable.

    David Wakefield. French Eighteenth-Century Painting. London, 1984, p. 27, identifies the "Italian Comedians" as the pendant.

    Helmut Börsch-Supan. Watteau, 1684–1721: Führer zur Ausstellung im Schloß Charlottenburg. Exh. cat., Schloss Charlottenburg. [Berlin], 1985, pp. 81–82, ill.

    André Blanc. "Watteau et le théâtre français." Antoine Watteau (1684–1721): Le peintre, son temps et sa légende. Paris, 1987, pp. 200–202, pl. 68, believes this painting very likely represents both a scene from a tragedy and an evocation of the one-act play that would customarily follow it; notes that the group in the foreground suggests one of the last scenes of Racine's "Bérénice" (act V, scene 5), which was performed in 1717 and 1720 with Adrienne Lecouvreur as the Queen and Quinault-Dufresne as Emperor Titus.

    Thierry Lefrançois. "L'influence d'Antoine Watteau sur l'oeuvre de Charles Coypel." Antoine Watteau (1684–1721): Le peintre, son temps et sa légende. Paris, 1987, pp. 69–70, pl. 68.

    Giovanni Macchia. "Le mythe théâtrale de Watteau." Antoine Watteau (1684–1721): Le peintre, son temps et sa légende. Paris, 1987, pp. 189–90.

    Evanghélos A. Moutsopoulos. "Les structures de la temporalité chez Watteau." Antoine Watteau (1684–1721): Le peintre, son temps et sa légende. Paris, 1987, p. 145, refers to this picture as "Les Comédiens français ['Andromaque']".

    Robert Tomlinson. "Fête galante et/ou foraine? Watteau et le théâtre." Antoine Watteau (1684–1721): Le peintre, son temps et sa légende. Paris, 1987, p. 210.

    Alan Wintermute in Claude to Corot: The Development of Landscape Painting in France. Exh. cat., Colnaghi. New York, 1990, p. 122.

    Helmut Börsch-Supan in Friedrich der Große: Sammler und Mäzen. Exh. cat., Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung. Munich, 1992, pp. 202–3, no. 84, ill. (color).

    Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat. Antoine Watteau, 1684–1721: Catalogue raisonné des dessins. Milan, 1996, vol. 1, pp. 180, 242, 280; vol. 2, pp. 966, 1058, 1094.

    Mark Ledbury in Intimate Encounters: Love and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century France. Exh. cat., Hood Museum of Art. Hanover, N.H., 1997, pp. 51–52, 58, ill.

    Helmut Börsch-Supan. Antoine Watteau, 1684–1721. Cologne, 2000, p. 25, ill. (color).

    Renaud Temperini. Watteau. Paris, 2002, p. 129, ill. (color).

    Katharine Baetjer in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, pp. 19, 184–88, no. 33, ill. (color, overall and detail).

    Christian Michel. Le "célèbre Watteau". Geneva, 2008, pp. 84, 145–46, 208, fig. 32, suggests that the architectural background may be by Michel Boyer.

    Katharine Baetjer in Watteau, Music, and Theater. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2009, pp. 50–52, no. 14, ill. (color) and color detail on p. vi, dates it about 1719–20.

    Christoph Martin Vogtherr et al. "Watteau, Pater, Lancret, Lajoüe." Französische Gemälde. 1, Berlin, 2011, pp. 653–56, no. A4, ill. (color), provide extensive bibliography, including early guides, inventories, and other documents.

    The Libertine: The Art of Love in Eighteenth-Century France. New York, 2013, ill. pp. 150–51 (color).

  • Notes

    Jean-Michel Liotard's engraving after this picture for the Recueil Jullienne was announced in the "Mercure de France" in 1731. The dimensions recorded on the engraving are "haut. de l. pied 10 pouces sur 2. pieds 4. pouces de l'arge" (or 59.4 x 75.6 cm, see Rosenberg et al. 1984). The picture was cut down, probably from the time it was with Frederick II, by 2.2 cm in the height and 2.6 cm in the width.

    "The Italian Comedians" (Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington) has been identified as a pendant to our picture by some authors, but differences in dimensions, style, and provenance of the two pictures makes this unlikely. A lost early work, the "Spectacle français" (Dacier and Vuaflart 1921, no. 294) was a first idea for this composition. It is preserved in an engraving by P. Dupin as well as in a sketch (Parker and Mathey 1957, no. 117), "Personnages de comédie." The head of the protagonist surely depends on the "Tête de gentilhomme . . ." (Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, P/M 940).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History