Jean Antoine Watteau (French, 16841721)
Red and black chalk; 12 15/16 x 8 in. (31.2 x 20.3 cm)
Bequest of Therese Kuhn Straus, in memory of her husband, Herbert N. Straus, 1977 (1978.12.1)
Early in his career, before devoting himself to popular subjects of lovers, aristocrats, and commedia dell'arte figures, Watteau treated themes inspired by his Northern training: the hardships of military life and the travails of the lower classes. This sheet is one of around a dozen depicting Savoyards, natives of the region of Savoy, whose impoverished circumstances sometimes led them to take up an itinerant life as street performers. This elderly woman in ragged clothes leans on a cane and gazes off to the side. On her arm is strapped a box to hold a marmot, used as a form of street entertainment. Watteau records her with candor, first in red chalk, and then with sharp accents of black to pick out creases and shadows.