Study of a Woman’s Head and Hands, Antoine Watteau (French, Valenciennes 1684–1721 Nogent-sur-Marne), Red and white chalk and graphite on off-white laid paper

Study of a Woman’s Head and Hands

Antoine Watteau (French, Valenciennes 1684–1721 Nogent-sur-Marne)
ca. 1717
Red and white chalk and graphite on off-white laid paper
Sheet: 7 1/2 x 5 in. (19 x 12.7 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 2012
Accession Number:
Not on view
Born in the northern French city of Valenciennes, Watteau followed a circuitous route from copyist to member of the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, where his morceau de réception was approved in 1717 in the newly created category of fêtes galantes. The enigmatic scenes to which this term referred centered around themes of love and dalliance set in imaginary park landscapes. Elegant figures in contemporary or theatrical dress were not posed or placed to conform to explicit narratives, but rather were based on the individual studies made from life that filled his sketchbooks.
Admired for their mise-en-page, Watteau's drawings often combine separate studies, as seen here, where a study of a woman’s hands is set below an oblique study of a her head, seen from above. In a painterly mix of red chalk and silvery-gray graphite, Watteau captures his sitter's natural comportment, drawing attention to elegant details, such as her cheekbone, her drop earring, and her delicate necklace. Although he parted with few in his lifetime, Watteau's chalk drawings became well-known after his death thanks to his friend Jean de Jullienne's project of publishing etchings after his drawings under the title, Figures de différents caractères (1726–28).
Inscription: Inscribed in pen and brown ink on the back of the mount: donné a mon ami Bouchardy / Le mercredi des cendres 1816 / Bhy [?] Julien Léopold Boilly.
Julien Léopold Boilly, called Jules Boilly (French), by 1816; Étienne Bouchardy (French); George Deligrand (French); Jacques Mathey, Paris, by 1951; Knoedler and Co. (French, British, American), London and New York, 1954-58; sold to Wrightsman; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York, 1958-his d. 1986; cat., 1973, no. 41; Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, from 1986; Donor: Jayne Wrightsman
Galerie Cailleux, Paris. "Le dessin français de Watteau à Prud'hon," April 1, 1951–April 30, 1951.

Royal Academy of Arts. "European Masters of the Eighteenth Century," November 27, 1954–February 27, 1955.

Knoedler. "Old Master, Impressionist, and Contemporary Drawings," June 12, 1958–July 9, 1958.

National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. "Watteau, 1684-1721," June 17, 1984–September 23, 1984.

Réunion des Musées Nationaux - Grand Palais. "Watteau, 1684-1721," October 23, 1984–January 28, 1985.

Schloss Charlottenburg. "Watteau, 1684-1721," February 22, 1985–May 26, 1985.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," November 26, 2012–February 24, 2013.

Edmond de Goncourt Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, dessiné et gravé d'Antoine Watteau. Paris, 1875, p. 280, no. 559.

Le dessin français de Watteau à Prud'hon. Exh. cat., Galerie Cailleux, Paris, April 1951. Paris, 1951, cat. no. 156.

Royal Academy of Arts European Masters of the Eighteenth Century. Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1954, cat. no. 291.

Karl Theodore Parker, Jacques Mathey Antoine Watteau: Catalogue complet de son oeuvre dessiné. Paris, 1957, vol. 2, p. 312, no. 578.

Old Master, Impressionist, and Contemporary Drawings. Exh. cat., Knoedler, London, June 12-July 9, 1958. London, 1958, cat. no. 3.

Everett Fahy The Wrightsman Collection. vol. 5, London, 1973, pp. 350-52, no. 41.

Margaret Morgan Grasselli, Pierre Rosenberg Watteau 1684-1721. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art, Washington, June 17-September 23, 1984; Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, October 23, 1984-January 28, 1985; Château de Charlottenbourg, Berlin, February 22-May 26, 1985. Paris, 1984, pp. 167-68, no. 92.

Pierre Rosenberg, Louis-Antoine Prat Antoine Watteau 1684-1721: Catalogue raisonné des dessins. Milan, 1996, vol. 2, pp. 960-61, no. 566.

Pierre Rosenberg, Elizabeth E. Barker, George R. Goldner et al. The Wrightsman Pictures. Everett Fahy, New York and New Haven, 2005, cat. no. 44, ill.

Stijn Alsteens, George R. Goldner, Constance C. McPhee, Cora Michael, Samantha Rippner, Perrin Stein "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 2010-2012." in The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, vol. 70, no. 2, Fall 2012, p. 38, ill.