The costumes and repertoire of French comedians was distinct from Watteau’s favored Italian commedia dell’arte. This painting’s principal male figure is dressed in an old-fashioned, formal costume that in the eighteenth century would have been appropriate for a subject from antiquity. Typical of Watteau, however, the scene is entirely imaginary and does not align with any known opera or play. The entrance from backstage of Crispin, a character from the commedia dell’arte, underscores the improbability of the scene. Infrared reflectography shows a preparatory underdrawing on the canvas, probably by a specialist architecture painter, a practice Watteau often employed to create such stagelike spaces.
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" (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.
Katharine Baetjer 2010
Jean de Jullienne, Paris (by 1731–44); Frederick II (the Great), King of Prussia, Stadtschloss, Potsdam (1744–d. 1786); by descent, Potsdam and Berlin (1786–1888); Kaiser Wilhelm [William II, King of Prussia], Neues Palais, Potsdam (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)
Berlin. Königliche Akademie der Künste. "Ausstellung von Gemälden älterer Meister im Berliner Privatbesitz," January 25–March 12, 1883, no. 8 (of works in the Rococo-Galerie, lent by Se. Majestät der Kaiser).
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.
Château de Versailles. "Fêtes et divertissements à la cour," November 29, 2016–March 26, 2017, no. 63.
Mercure de France 2 (December 1731), p. 3091, announces the publication of the engraving after this picture 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. Paris, 1735, vol. 1, unpaginated, folio 20 [the engraving by Liotard as bound in copy in MMA Drawings and Prints Department], 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, as "Représentation d'une tragédie".
Friedrich Nicolai. Beschreibung der königlichen Residenzstädte Berlin und Potsdam. 3rd ed. Berlin, 1786, vol. 3, p. 1145 n. 2, 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. Vol. 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.
L. Dussieux. Les artistes français a l'étranger. 3rd ed. Paris, 1876, p. 222.
R. Dohme. "Zur Literatur über Antoine Watteau." Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst 11 (1876), p. 90, no. 8, in the Berlin Palace; 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.
Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. Vol. 1, 3rd ed. Paris, 1880, p. 17.
Robert Dohme in Robert Dohme. Kunst und Künstler des Mittelalters und der Neuzeit. part 3, Leipzig, 1880, p. 8.
W[ilhelm von]. Bode and R[obert]. Dohme. "Die Ausstellung von Gemälden älterer Meister im Berliner Privatbesitz." 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.
Paul Seidel. Friedrich der Grosse und die französische Malerei seiner Zeit. Berlin, 1892, ill. p. 43.
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".
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.
Adolf Rosenberg. Antoine Watteau. Bielefeld, 1896, p. 76.
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.
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.
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. 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, , p. 166, ill. p. 15.
Emile Dacier. Le Musée de la Comédie-française, 1680–1905. Paris, 1905, pp. 47–48, ill. opp. p. 40 (engraving), supports Fourcaud's (1904) view, noting that Watteau made drawings of Poisson, Dumirail, and Mlle Desmares that were subsequently engraved by Desplaces.
Gemälde alter Meister im Besitze Seiner Majestät des deutschen Kaisers und Königs von Preussen. Ed. Paul Seidel. Berlin, , pp. 134–37, ill. opp. p. 136.
Paul Seidel inAusstellung von Werken Französischer Kunst des XVIII. Jahrhunderts. Exh. cat., Königliche Akademie der Künste. Berlin, 1910, pp. 15–16, 40, no. 147, ill.
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.
Jean-Louis Vaudoyer. "Exposition d'oeuvres de l'art français au XVIIIe siècle." Les arts no. 103 (July 1910), pp. 12, 14, 16.
Gabriel Mourey. "Une Exposition d'art français du XVIIIe siècle à Berlin." Revue de Paris 2 (March–April 1910), pp. 570, 572, 576.
Edmond Pilon. Watteau et son école. Brussels, 1912, pp. 70, 98–99, 113, 150, observes that the gestures suggest a tragedy in the manner of Racine, such as Bérénice or Andromaque.
E. Heinrich Zimmermann. Watteau: Des Meisters Werke. Stuttgart, 1912, pp. 189, 196, pls. 101–2 (overall and detail), as from about 1719–21.
François Thiébault-Sisson. "Les Watteau de l'empereur d'Allemagne." La Vie artistique (February 11, 1912), p. 3.
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.
Emile 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.
Edmund Hildebrandt. Antoine Watteau. Berlin, 1922, pp. 49–50, ill.
Emile Dacier and Albert Vuaflart. Jean de Jullienne et les graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe siècle. Vol. 2, Historique. Paris, 1922, pp. 35, 63, 95, 97–98, 130, 142, 162.
Emile Dacier and Albert Vuaflart. Jean de Jullienne et les graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe siècle. Vol. 3, Catalogue. Paris, 1922, p. 95, no. 205 (the engraving), err in converting the dimensions; state that Jullienne sold the picture to Frederick the Great.
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], , ill. p. 109 (Liotard engraving).
Louis Réau inLes peintres français du XVIIIe siècle: Histoire des vies et catalogue des oeuvres. Ed. Louis Dimier. Vol. 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 "en face" are Mdlle. Duclos and M. Beaubourg; the actor mounting the stairs being Paul Poisson, in the familiar part of Crispin.
Emile Dacier, Albert Vuaflart, and Jacques Herold. Jean de Jullienne et les graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe siècle. Vol. 1, Notices et documents biographiques. 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] represents French and Italian comedy; claim that the only play that includes the theme of torn letters thrown to the ground is Molière's "Dépit amoureux" (act IV, scene 3); observe that Frederick the Great's representative in France, the comte de Rothenbourg, was actively purchasing works by Watteau between 1744 and 1746.
de Caylus. Le gaulois artistique (January 9, 1929), p. 108.
R. H. Wile[n]ski. French Painting. Boston, 1931, p. 107.
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.
Troisième centenaire de l'Académie Française. Exh. cat., Bibliothèque Nationale. [Paris], , pp. 186–87, no. 949, observes that the scene appears to be from Racine's "Andromaque".
J. Lejeaux, ed. Exposition de l'art français au XVIIIe siècle. Exh. cat., Charlottenborg Palace. Copenhagen, 1935, p. 81, no. 261.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 55, ill.
Charles Sterling inChefs 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.
Robert Burnand inChefs d'œuvre de l'art français. Paris, 1937, vol. 1, pp. 201–3, no. 76, ill., believes a scene from Andromaque is represented here.
George Henry McCall. Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture from 1300–1800: Masterpieces of Art. Ed. William R. Valentiner. Exh. cat., World's Fair. New York, 1939, pp. 199–200, no. 406, pl. 81.
Gilbert W. Barker. Antoine Watteau. London, 1939, pp. 137–38.
Jacques 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; states that both depict a scene from Molière's "Dépit amoureux".
Walter Pach inMasterpieces 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 inAllgemeines Lexikon der bildenden Künstler. Ed. Hans Vollmer. Vol. 35, Leipzig, 1942, p. 194, dates it during the time of Watteau's trip to England [1719–20].
Harry B. Wehle. "The Bache Collection on Loan." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (June 1943), p. 286.
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, no. 60, figs. 60–61 (overall and detail).
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. Vol. 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".
Josephine L. Allen and Elizabeth E. Gardner. A Concise Catalogue of the European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1954, p. 102.
Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), p. 37, ill.
Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 102–5, ill., comments that identification of the performers is hypothetical; 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," 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; find the "Tête d'homme" (vol. 2, no. 753, Eccles collection, London) analogous to the head of the actor at the center; [for the "Tête de gentilhomme" (p. 383, no. 940, Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris), mention 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.
René Gimpel. Diary of an Art Dealer. English ed. New York, 1966, p. 351.
Colin Eisler. "Two Immortalized Landscapes—Watteau and the Recueil Jullienne." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 24 (January 1966), pp. 166, 169, ill.
Anita Brookner. Watteau. London, 1967, p. 40, colorpl. 45, as painted in 1720 and the pendant to the "Italian Comedians".
Ettore Camesasca inThe 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, , vol. 1, in 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, , 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. Antoine Watteau und das Theater. PhD diss., Universität Basel. 1973, pp. 23, 124–38, 141, 151, 179, 200–202, 214, 219, 243, 259, 261, 299–304, 311, 315, 336, 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. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. Vol. 4, European Schools Excluding Italian. London, 1977, pp. 302–3, 305, as the pendant to the "Italian Comedians," but considers it possible that the latter may prove to be a 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.
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"; notes that the fact that a dramatic text has not yet been found cannot be viewed as evidence that Watteau "concocted" a scene.
David Wakefield. French Eighteenth-Century Painting. London, 1984, p. 27, identifies the "Italian Comedians" as the pendant.
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. inWatteau, 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 lost at right and nearly 3 cm at top and bottom; notes that the setting suggests "more the actual appearance of Versailles than a stage set"; calls the drawing of a man's head in the Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, a study for the face of the principal figure and finds the pairing with the "Italian Comedians" untenable.
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 the "theatrical architecture in the style of the 'instant palaces' created by the Comédie-Française decorators"; reproduces a costume drawing from the school of Bérain (Louvre, Paris) similar to the costume of the protagonist.
Helmut Börsch-Supan. Watteau, 1684–1721: Führer zur Ausstellung im Schloß Charlottenburg. Exh. cat., Schloss Charlottenburg. [Berlin], 1985, pp. 81–82, ill.
Thierry Lefrançois. "L'influence d'Antoine Watteau sur l'oeuvre de Charles Coypel." Antoine Watteau (1684–1721): Le peintre, son temps et sa légende. Ed. François Moureau and Margaret Morgan Grasselli. Paris, 1987, pp. 69–70, pl. 68.
André Blanc. "Watteau et le théâtre français." Antoine Watteau (1684–1721): Le peintre, son temps et sa légende. Ed. François Moureau and Margaret Morgan Grasselli. Paris, 1987, pp. 200–202, pl. 68, believes this painting very likely represents a scene from a tragedy and an evocation of the one-act play that would customarily follow it; notes that the main group suggests Racine's "Bérénice" (act V, scene 5), which was performed in 1717 and 1720.
Robert Tomlinson. "Fête galante et/ou foraine? Watteau et le théâtre." Antoine Watteau (1684–1721): Le peintre, son temps et sa légende. Ed. François Moureau and Margaret Morgan Grasselli. Paris, 1987, p. 210.
Evanghélos A. Moutsopoulos. "Les structures de la temporalité chez Watteau." Antoine Watteau (1684–1721): Le peintre, son temps et sa légende. Ed. François Moureau and Margaret Morgan Grasselli. Paris, 1987, p. 145, refers to this picture as "Les Comédiens français ['Andromaque']".
Giovanni Macchia. "Le mythe théâtrale de Watteau." Antoine Watteau (1684–1721): Le peintre, son temps et sa légende. Ed. François Moureau and Margaret Morgan Grasselli. Paris, 1987, pp. 189–90.
Alan Wintermute inClaude to Corot: The Development of Landscape Painting in France. Ed. Alan Wintermute. Exh. cat., Colnaghi. New York, 1990, p. 122.
Helmut Börsch-Supan inFriedrich der Große: Sammler und Mäzen. Ed. Johann Georg Prinz von Hohenzollern. Exh. cat., Kunsthalle der Hypo-Kulturstiftung. Munich, 1992, pp. 202–3, no. 84, ill. (color).
François Moureau. De Gherardi à Watteau: Présence d'Arlequin sous Louis XIV. Paris, 1992, pp. 78, 81, 97, 112–13.
Katharine Baetjer. European Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art by Artists Born Before 1865: A Summary Catalogue. New York, 1995, p. 368, ill.
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 inIntimate 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).
Meryle Secrest. Duveen: A Life in Art. New York, 2004, pp. 290–91, 500.
Katharine Baetjer inThe 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 inWatteau, Music, and Theater. Ed. Katharine Baetjer. 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.
Philip Conisbee inFrench Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. Washington, 2009, p. 475.
Christoph Martin Vogtherr et al. Französische Gemälde. Vol. 1, Watteau, Pater, Lancret, Lajoüe. Berlin, 2011, pp. 653–56, no. A4, ill. (color), provide extensive bibliography, including early guides, inventories, and other documents.
Michel Delon, ed. The Libertine: The Art of Love in Eighteenth-Century France. New York, 2013, ill. pp. 150–51 (color).
Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell. Fashion Victims: Dress at the Court of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. New Haven, 2015, p. 202, fig. 154 (color), ill. p. 200 (color detail).
Thomas Kemper. "Emperor's Collection: Kunsthistorische Anmerkungen zur Vermögensauseinandersetzung zwischen dem Staat Preußen und Wilhelm II." Museumsjournal 3 (2015), pp. 10, 13, ill.
Philippe Hourcade inFêtes & divertissements à la cour. Ed. Elisabeth Caude, Jérôme de La Gorce, and Béatrix Saule. Exh. cat., Château de Versailles. Versailles, 2016, p. 118, no. 63, ill. pp. 82, 118 (color, overall and detail).
Martin Sonnabend inWatteau: Der Zeichner. Exh. cat., Städel Museum. Frankfurt, 2016, pp. 72, 74 n. 6, fig. 40 (color).
Mary Dailey Desmarais inMonet: The Early Years. Exh. cat., Kimbell Art Museum. Fort Worth, 2016, p. 24, fig. 19 (color), in discussing the relationship of Monet's "Luncheon on the Grass" (1865–66; Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow) to the work of Watteau, notes the similarity of the figure of Crispin in this painting to the figure of the valet at the far right of Monet's picture.
Yuriko Jackall inAmerica Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2017, p. 296.
Katharine Baetjer. French Paintings in The Metropolitan Museum of Art from the Early Eighteenth Century through the Revolution. New York, 2019, pp. 62, 67–71, no. 11, ill. (color), fig. 11.5 (infrared reflectogram).
Colin B. Bailey. "Review of Baetjer 2019." Burlington Magazine 163 (May 2021), p. 471.
Jennifer Tonkovich. Claude Gillot: Satire in the Age of Reason. Exh. cat., Morgan Library & Museum. New York, 2023, p. 107, fig. 3.49 (color), states that "Joseph Baillio has noted a striking similarity of the central figure" in Gillot's drawing "Three Actors in Heroic Costume" (private collection) in both pose and costume to the actor in The Met's painting.
The frame is from France and dates to about 1725 (see figs. 1–4 above). This highly refined Régence frame has an oak back frame while the front portion is made of limewood. The mitred corners are secured with tapered keys. A small cavetto rises to a sight edge carved in acanthus and husk ornament. Diamond crossed lattice with husk terminals and cabochon ornament the frieze. The ovolu shaped sides rise to a flat fillet at the top edge and are strewn with floral sprays and punctuated with rosettes. Swept rail intervals adorned with acanthus and rosettes interrupt the straight top edge. The masterfully carved cartouche corners depict four cabochon within rocaille and acanthus ornament. The center cartouches depict double shells. A deep outer hollow terminates in a chain of cabochon at the back edge which echoes the top edge. Floral clusters which emerge from the corners adorn the cabochon chain. The original surface is water gilded on ochre and red bole on a skillfully recut gesso layer. Though slightly reduced in width and increased in height the frame is contemporary to the painting.
Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2017; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files
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 may depend on the Tête de gentilhomme . . . (Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, P/M 940).
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