The French Comedians

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

Date: ca. 1720

Medium: Oil on canvas

Dimensions: 22 1/2 x 28 3/4 in. (57.2 x 73 cm)

Classification: Paintings

Credit Line: The Jules Bache Collection, 1949

Accession Number: 49.7.54


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.