Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)
Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)

Head of a man

Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)
Head of a man
with inscription 'dessins q... mouran ... Tuilla ...'
black and red chalk
4 1/8 x 3 5/8 in. (106 x 93 mm.)
Comte de Caylus, according to an inscription on the previous mount.
The Earl of Mayo.
Otto Gutekunst, 1930.
Purchased by Martin Bodmer from Mrs. Gutekunst through Böhler, 1938.
E. de Goncourt, Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint, dessiné et gravé d'Antoine Watteau, Paris, 1875, under no. 754.
K.T. Parker, 'A self-portrait of Watteau', Apollo, XII, 72, December 1930, pp. 400-402.
K.T. Parker, The drawings of Antoine Watteau, London, 1931, pp. 6, 21 and 41, illustrated on the title page.
D. Sutton, 'A self-portrait of Watteau', The Stapledon Magazine, IX, 65, December 1939, pp. 349-350.
J. Mathey, 'Diversité de Watteau dessinateur', Connaissance des Arts, 67, September 1957, p. 66, fig. 1.
K.T. Parker and J. Mathey, Antoine Watteau, catalogue complet de son oeuvre dessiné, Paris, 1957, II, no. 915.
M. Cormack, The drawings of Watteau, London, 1970, p. 18, under no. 1.
Y. Zolotov, Antoine Watteau, textes anciens, Moscow, 1971, p. 9.
D. Eckardt, Antoine Watteau, Berlin, 1973, under no. 1.
P. Bjurström, 'Two more drawings by Watteau', Stockholm Nationalmuseum Bulletin, III, 3, 1979, pp. 145-6, fig. 9, p. 16, no. 16.
M. Roland Michel, Watteau: Un artiste au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1984, p. 54, fig. 28.
P. Rosenberg and L.-A. Prat, Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), Catalogue raisonné des dessins, Milan, 1996, II, no. 628.
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of French Art, 1200-1900, 1932, no. 712 (cat. no. 764).
Amsterdam, Willet-Holthuysen Museum, Antoine Watteau als teekenaar, 1935, no.1.

Lot Essay

Perhaps because of the vivid insight it offers into a gentle and poetic character, this haunting image has often been considered a self-portrait of Watteau, who was described by his friend the comte de Caylus as 'tender, agreeable, faintly bucolic [un peu berger]'. Nevertheless, the model's face bears only a general similarity to the few documented portraits of the artist to have survived. More tellingly, an engraving made of the drawing by Watteau's contemporary, Pierre Filloeul, which was included as the fourth plate in his portfolio Livre de différents caractères de têtes, inventez par M. Watteaux (published in 1752), fails to provide any identification of the drawing's subject, an unlikely omission had it been a portrait of the artist himself. Similarly, no mention is made of the sitter's identity in the fragmentary inscription on the reverse of the sheet, though it does indicate that the drawing once belonged to Caylus, the artist's champion and biographer. It is more probable that the model is one of the many anonymous friends and acquaintances that regularly found themselves posing for Watteau, who saved his studies in bound books and turned to them for inspiration when planning his paintings. Like many of the more than six hundred surviving sheets by Watteau, this head study does not reappear in any of his known compositions.
The complex and virtuoso application of red and black chalks is characteristic of the drawings from the final years of Watteau's life, and Rosenberg and Prat have suggested a dating of 1718-1719 for the Bodmer sheet. The delicacy with which hatching is used to shape the left side of the face is similar to that found in Young man in a tall hat (private collection; Rosenberg and Prat, op. cit., no. 611) and the dense, almost greasy application of chalk that indicates the deeply shadowed right side of the head and neck is comparable to that employed in the famous study of mezzetin in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Rosenberg and Prat, op. cit., no. 615); stylistically, all three sheets would seem to date from the same brief moment (see A. Wintermute, Watteau and His World: French Drawing from 1700 to 1750, exhib. cat., New York, Frick Collection, and elsewhere, 1999, cat. nos. 39-40).
Among the most striking qualities of the Bodmer study is the almost palpable sense that the model is surrounded by a sparkling, light-filled atmosphere. The sitter's emotional reserve - enigmatic, though perhaps ironic - is often found in the drawings made in the year or two before Watteau's death. The model gives away few of his secrets, but his face is not vacant - it projects an intense undercurrent of contained emotion, and the sense of rich but ambiguous inner life that makes Watteau's last studies among his most powerful and memorable.


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