This sheet, known as Le Pique-nique, shows a young boy climbing a tree under the eyes of a young woman and a little girl. A counterproof exists at the Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie, Besançon (inv. D.2977; Catala, op.cit., no. 176, ill.). A further autograph version in black chalk is signed and dated 1782 and follows the general composition, with the tree and the wooden plank in the foreground (Sotheby’s, Monaco, 22 June 1986, lot 48). The group of the two girls was also used by the artist, in reverse, at lower left in the painting The return of the cattle, owned by Jean-François Bergeret de Frouville and exhibited at the Salon in 1775, now in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (fig. 1; inv. 35.40.1).
The drawing and the related works demonstrate Robert’s working method, which allowed him to satisfy the growing demand from collectors by producing counterproofs, while also building a repertoire of motifs that he would reuse at various stages of his career. Sarah Catala (op. cit) dates the present sheet to the 1780s.
Fig. 1. Hubert Robert, The return of the cattle, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.