Pierrot, Harlequin and Scapin

(Arlequin, Scapin et Pierrot)

On display in:

West Gallery

Order image © All images subject to copyright

Artist or maker

Watteau, Antoine (b.1684, d.1721)

Date

c 1719

dated by Surugue engraving

Place of production

  • Paris, France

Medium

  • oil on panel

Type of object

  • paintings

Accession number

2374

Oil painting of five players of the commedia dell'arte shown in half-length. Pierrot stands on the left before a column with a term of Pan and a rose bush. To the right are Harlequin, wearing a black mask, more often associated with the character Scaramouche; a woman, possibly Silvie, probably playing a guitar and the character known as Crispin. Above this trio is a man, probably Scapin or Pantalon, pulling back a curtain. Mountains are in the right distance.

Pierrot stands, ready to perform, next to four other characters from the pantomime troupe known as the 'commedia dell'arte'. Recent research has confirmed that this is an original painting by one of the foremost painters of 18th-century France, Antoine Watteau. The painting was once a companion piece for a work in the Wallace Collection, London.

Commentary

Some scholars have argued that this is a copy, but X-rays taken of the painting show some alterations that suggest it is an original. The changes appear in the face of Pierrot and around the figures of Harlequin, Scapin and Crispin. Harlequin's left arm was originally bent to his chest; Scapin had his right arm raised; and Crispin seems to have been originally wearing clown make-up and a tall, thin, curved hat. The painting also has an addition all the way round the edge, with later painting on it. This includes Pierrot's hands and Crispin's hand on the sword hilt. The latter detail relates to one of Watteau's drawings indicating that the painting may have been altered after the drawing or a print of it. The Wallace Collection pendant, 'Pour nous prouver que cette belle' or 'The Music Lesson' (P377), also has a similar later addition. Another example of Watteau’s composition is in the collection of Earl Spencer, Althorp and there is a copy in the Musée de Moulins, Paris.

Antoine Watteau emphasises Pierrot's isolation from the drama through contrasting his static pose with the dynamism of the masked Harlequin, Scapin pulling back the curtain, and the conspiring figures of the woman and Crispin. An engraving made in 1719 by Louis Surugue with the title 'Arlequin, Scapin et Pierrot' identifies the scene as Crispin's amorous adventures with the guitarist whilst his companions' attention is diverted, but the composition suggests Pierrot is the real subject of this piece. The engraving was also known in the 18th century as 'Les Petits comédiéns italiens'. Watteau painted several works that explored theatrical performance. These compositions have been seen as evidence of Watteau's fascination with the actor's independence from serving the audience. Pierrot's self-sufficiency has been seen as a metaphor for Watteau's own artistic identity (Mary Vidal; Watteau's Painted Conversations; London; 1992; pp. 146-7).

Watteau came to Paris around 1702 and studied with Claude Gillot who also painted theatre scenes as well as scenes of everyday life. Watteau used the surface appeal of the theatre in his paintings of courtly gatherings known as ‘fêtes galantes’. His works often have an underlying air of melancholy symbolised by the mournful clown Pierrot in this painting. Watteau’s paintings were popular in 18th-century England. They were seen to be close to the small-scale 17th century Netherlandish and Flemish paintings of everyday life that could easily be displayed in gentlemen’s cabinets. Sir Joshua Reynolds owned this painting, when it was known as 'A Masquerade', along with a panel known as 'The Music Lesson' now in the Wallace Collection (P377).

Phillippa Plock, 2011

Physical description

Dimensions (mm) / weight (mg)

186 x 238
180 x 232 - sight

Signature & date

not signed or dated

Labels

115
Label
on verso centre

History

Provenance

  • Anon. sale, Paris 11 March 1776, no. 57; De Vougue sale, Paris, 15 March 1784, no. 118; owned by Sir Joshua Reynolds; P.R.A. (b.1723, d.1792), who possibly acquired it from Calonne who acquired it from Nazel; bought by Michael Bryan at Sir Joshua Reynolds Sale, 13 March, printed as 5 March, 1795 lot 83 as 'Watteau. A pair, a Masquerade and a Musical Conversation...' for 19 guineas; acquired by Lord Carysfort (d.Circa 1828); bought by Samuel Rogers at Lord Carysfort's Sale 14 June 1828, lot 29, 'A pair, small. A Masqyerade and a Musical Conversation...' for 60 guineas; bought by Bentley on behalf of Thomas Baring M.P. (b.1799, d.1873) at Samuel Rogers Sale, lot 566, 'A masquerade: a group of five figures in masquerade dress. From the Earl of Carysfort's Collection', for 155 guineas; inherited from Baring by his nephew Lord Northbrook (b.1826, d.1904); bought by Baroness Mathilde de Rothschild (b.1832, d.1924) around 1889; inherited by Albert von Goldschmidt-Rothschild (b.1879, d.1941); acquired by Baroness Edmond de Rothschild (b.1853, d.1935) in 1933; by descent to her son Mr James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1957.

Exhibition history

  • British Institution Exhibition, 1829, London, titled as 'Masquerade Scene', lent by Rogers
  • Royal Academy Exhibition, 1889, London, no. 94, lent by Earl of Northbrook

Collection

  • Waddesdon (National Trust)
  • Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957
Bibliography

Bibliography

  • Émile Dacier, Albert Vuaflart; Jean de Julienne et les Graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe siècle; Paris; M Rousseau; 1922; no. 97; engraving by Surugue
  • Louis Dimier; Les Peintres Français du XVIII Siecle; 2 vols; Paris; Les Editions G.Van Oest; 1928-1930; p. 34, no. 60; as by Watteau
  • Hélène Adhémar; Watteau: sa vie, son oeuvre; Paris; Tisné; 1950; p. 222, no. 163; as a copy of the version in the Spencer collection
  • Michael Levey, French and Italian Paintings at Waddesdon, Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 54, August 1959, 57-66; p. 57, fig. 2
  • Anita Brookner, French Pictures at Waddesdon, The Burlington Magazine, 101, 1959, 271-273; p. 273
  • Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; p. 286, no. 135
  • Ettore Camesasca, John Sunderland; The complete paintings of Watteau; London; Weidenfeld & Nicolson; 1971; p. 114, no. 155; as an autograph copy
  • Donald Posner; Antoine Watteau; Ithaca; Cornell University Press; 1984; p. 290, n. 53; rejects attribution to Watteau
  • François Moreau, Margaret Morgan Grasselli; Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) le peintre, son temps et sa legende; Geneva; Editions Clairefontaine; 1987; pp. 271-272, fig. 6.
  • Pierre Rosenberg; Antoine Watteau, 1684-1721: catalogue raisonné des dessins; 3 vols; Milan; Elemond S.P.A; 1996; vol. 2; p. 656, no. 400, gesture connected to Crispin; p. 1014, no. 596, woman seated playing a guitar; p. 1026, hand on sword; p. 1058, no. 621, standing Pierrot, related
  • Guillaume Glorieux, L'Angleterre et Watteau au XVIIIe siècle. La réception de la fête galante par les amateurs anglais, The British Art Journal, 7, 2006, 50 ff; pp. 52-53
  • Christoph Martin Vogtherr; Watteau at the Wallace Collection; 'Esprit et Vérité. Watteau and his Circle', Wallace Collection, London, 12 March - 5 June 2011; London; Wallace Collection; 2011; p. 100, fig. 61.
  • Lucy Davis, Mark Hallett; Sir Joshua Reynolds: Experiments in Paint; The Wallace Collection, London (12 March - 7 June 2015); London; Wallace Collection, Paul Holberton Publishing; 2015; p. 34, fig. 15.

Related files