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The Path of Nature: Collecting Off the Beaten Path


Troops on the March

Jean-Baptiste Joseph Pater (French, Valenciennes 1695–1736 Paris)

ca. 1725
Oil on canvas
21 1/4 x 25 3/4 in. (54 x 65.4 cm)
Credit Line:
Bequest of Ethel Tod Humphrys, 1956
Accession Number:
  • Gallery Label

    A pupil of Watteau, Pater was born to the north at Valenciennes, an area which, having belonged to the Spanish Netherlands, had been restored to France in 1678. The wars of Louis XIV had ravished the northern territories and Pater would have seen the aftermath. As young men, he and Watteau both painted military subjects. The marchers, closely observed, wear contemporary dress and carry weapons and ammunition bags. Camp followers with babies, pots and pans, and pet dogs walk and ride beside them.

  • Catalogue Entry

    Pater submitted a military subject to the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture as his reception piece in 1728, but troop pictures, which date from his early years, represent only a fraction of his oeuvre. He often painted them in pairs (see also 56.55.2) and they show, in addition to soldiers, camp followers, women, often with babies in arms, and small children. The soldiers, mostly of the lower ranks, are not uniformly dressed, but wear coats of various colors; they carry sabers, muskets, pikes, and ammunition bags. They are accompanied by victuallers with wagons of provisions. The figures are minutely painted in a tight, descriptive style. The mood is somber and the overall tone darker than usual for Pater. The rolling landscapes that make up the backgrounds are furnished with dilapidated houses, towers, walls, and fences set among filmy trees, all clearly imaginary.


  • Provenance

    Baron Adolphe de Rothschild, Paris (until d. 1900); Baron Maurice de Rothschild, Paris (1900–1924; sold to Wildenstein); [Wildenstein, New York, from 1924; sold to Macbride]; Mrs. Herbert Macbride, later Mrs. Julian Humphrys, New York (by 1928–d. 1956)

  • Exhibition History

    City Art Museum of St. Louis. "French Art of the XVIII Century," January 15–February 15, 1923, no. 21 (as "War Scene," lent by Baron M. de Rothschild).

    Baltimore Museum of Art. "French Art of the XVIII Century," January 4–February 3, 1924, no. 15 or 16 (as "War Scene," lent by Baron M. de Rothschild).

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "French Painting and Sculpture of the XVIII Century," November 6, 1935–January 5, 1936, no. 6 (as "Troops on the March," lent by Mrs. Julian Humphrys).

    Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne," June 23–November 12, 2006, no. 34.

    Barcelona. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. "Grandes maestros de la pintura europea de The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York: De El Greco a Cézanne," December 1, 2006–March 4, 2007, no. 27.

    New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Watteau, Music, and Theater," September 22–November 29, 2009, no. 20.

  • References

    Florence Ingersoll-Smouse. Pater. Paris, 1928, p. 73, no. 449, fig. 125, as owned by Mrs. Herbert MacBride, New York.

    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. 190, 192–94, no. 34, ill. (color, overall and detail) [Catalan ed., Barcelona, 2006, pp. 102–3, no. 27, ill. (color)].

    Katharine Baetjer in Watteau, Music, and Theater. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 2009, pp. 63–64, no. 20, ill. (color).

  • Notes

    A signed replica (Rau Foundation, Zurich), close in size (53 x 64 cm) and coloring but with slight variations in detail, was engraved by Nicolas III de Larmessin (1684–1755).

  • See also
    In the Museum
    Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History