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Jean-Antoine Watteau (Valenciennes 1684-1721 Nogent-sur-Marne)
Jean-Antoine Watteau (Valenciennes 1684-1721 Nogent-sur-Marne)

La Lorgneuse

Jean-Antoine Watteau (Valenciennes 1684-1721 Nogent-sur-Marne)
La Lorgneuse
oil on panel, unframed
12 7/8 x 9 3/8 in. (32.6 x 23.8 cm.)
Jean de Jullienne (1686-1766), Paris.
Germain-Louis Chauvelin, Marquis de Grosbois (1685-1762), ministre d’état, commandeur des ordres du roi & ancien garde des sceaux; his sale, Hôtel de M. Chauvelin, Paris, 21 June 1762,lot 27 as one of a pair, with L’Accord parfait:‘Deux agréables Tableaux, peints sur bois, par Antoine Watteau; ils portent chacun 12 pouces de haut, sur 9 pouces de large. On les trouve gravés sous les titres de La Lorgneuse & de l’Accord parfait, le premier par Scotin, le second par Baron.’(304 livres 19 deniers for the pair).
M. le Rebourg; his sale, l’Hôtel de feu M. le President le Rebourg, Paris, 27 April 1778, lot 32.
(Possibly) Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun (1748-1813); his sale, une Salle des Révérends Peres Augustins du Grand Couvent, Paris, 12 December 1778 [=3rd day], lot 110 (97 livres to anonymous).
with Mathieu-François-Louis Devogue; his sale, Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, 15 March 1784 [=1st day], lot 119 (130 livres to Joseph-Alexandre Le Brun).
Jean-Baptiste-Pierre Le Brun (1748-1813); his sale, rue de Cléry, no. 95, Paris, 14 April 1791, lot 202, where described as ‘…d’une belle couleur, et tient beaucoup du Titien’ (122 livres to Henry Walton).
Sir Samuel Rogers (1763-1855), London, by 1831; his sale (†), Christie’s, London, 28 April-10 May 1856 [5th day], lot 596 (140 gns. to the following),
with Agnew’s, London, where acquired on23 May 1856 by
Lt. Col. Thomas Birchall, Ribbleton Hall, Preston,
R.R. Rothwell [on behalf of Thomas Birchall]; Christie’s London, 6 February 1904, lot 150 as‘The Music Lesson’ (270 gns. to Lesser).
F. Robertson, from whom acquired by
Charles Sedelmeyer, Paris, 23 December 1904 (13,130 francs); his sale, Galerie Sedelmeyer,4 rue de la Rochefoucauld, Paris, 16-18 May 1907, lot 254 (18,000 francs to Gustave Dreyfus for the Compte de Heugel).
Private collection, Paris, by 1950, and by descentto the present owner.
E. de Goncourt, Catalogue raisonné de l’oeuvre peint, dessiné, et gravé d’Antoine Watteau, Paris, 1875, pp. 95 and 132-3, no. 147.
J.W. Mollett, Jean Antoine Watteau, London, 1883, p. 69.
‘Foreign Sales of the Month’, American Art News, 5, 15 June 1907, p. 10.
C. Ricketts, ‘In Memory of Charles Conder’, The Burlington Magazine, XV, 73, April 1909, p. 13.
H. Adhémar, Watteau: sa vie – son oeuvre, Paris, 1950, p. 222, no. 166.
G. Finley, ‘Ars longa, vita brevis: The Watteau Study and Lord Percy by J. M. W. Turner’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 44, 1981, p. 246.
E. Camesasca, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Watteau, Paris, 1982, p. 103, under no. 103.
M.R. Michel, Watteau. An Artist of the Eighteenth Century, London, 1984, pp. 266 and 287.
S. Whittingham, ‘Watteau and “Watteaus” in Britain c. 1780-1851,’ in F. Moreau and M. Morgan Grasselli (eds.), Antoine Watteau (1684-1721): The Painter, His Age and His Legend, Paris and Geneva, 1987, p. 272, fig. 8.
M. Eidelberg, Watteau et la fête galante, exhibition catalogue, Paris, 2004, p. 200, under no. 56.
C. Bailey, P. Conisbee and T.W. Gaehtgens, The Age of Watteau, Chardin and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting, exhibition catalogue, New Haven and London, 2004, p. 38, note 204.
K. Ireland, Cythera Regained? The Rococo Revival in European Literature and the Arts, 1830-1910, Cranbury, NJ, 2006, p. 108.
C. Michel, Le «Célèbre Watteau», Geneva, 2008, p. 254.
D.H. Solkin, Turner and the Masters, exhibition catalogue, London, 2009, p. 177.
R. Ziskin, Sheltering Art. Collecting and social identity in early eighteenth-century Paris, Pennsylvania, 2012, p. 117.
N. Parmantier Lallement in Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), La Leçon de Musique, exhibition catalogue, ed. F. Raymond, Brussels, 2013, no. 40, as lost, known only from engraving.

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Abbie Barker
Abbie Barker

Lot Essay

The composition of La Lorgneuse has been well known since the 18th century, when Gérard Jean-Baptiste Scotin’s engraving (fig. 1) of it was included in the Recueil Jullienne, the complete compendium of engravings after Watteau’s paintings published in two volumes by Watteau’s friend (and sometime dealer) Jean de Jullienne. The original painting on which Scotin’s print was based passed through a series of illustrious collections in France in the 18th century and England in the 19th century, but essentially disappeared from view after it was sold at auction in Paris by the dealer Charles Sedelmeyer in 1907; indeed, a single black and white photograph made at the time for Sedelmeyer (fig. 2) is the only image previously known of the actual painting, which – until now – has often been published as a lost work. The re-emergence of La Lorgneuse is a significant addition to the relatively small corpus of surviving paintings by Watteau, which has recently been enriched by several other important rediscoveries, most notably that of La Surprise, a long-lost masterpiece that was sold in these Rooms in 2008.

The curious title of the present painting, La Lorgneuse (‘The Ogling Woman’), first appeared on Scotin’s reproductive engraving, which serves as the pendant to another plate by the same printmaker, entitled Le Lorgneur (‘The Ogling Man’), itself based on a painting by Watteau that is now in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond (fig. 3). The publication of the engraving of Le Lorgneur was announced in the Mercure de France in December 1727, with no mention of the name of the printmaker or reference to its distaff counterpart. The prints have always been understood to convey simple, loosely contrasted narratives of romantic satisfaction and frustration. In La Lorgneuse, a country boy in fancy dress sits on the ground and is about to commence – or has just concluded – serenading a pretty young maiden with an air from his flute; he looks up eagerly, expectantly, to gauge her reaction; she glances down at him with gentle approval. In Le Lorgneur, a girl in an elegant silk gown sits in the woods as another shy boy with a flute vies for her affections; now, however, a second man – a self-certain and flamboyantly attired guitarist – competes for her attention with his own song, and seems to be winning her favour. In both compositions, music is presented as the language of the heart, and love, desire, romantic aspiration and sexual competition all play out through the making of music.

As the printed dedications on Scotin’s paired engravings make clear, the original paintings were in the ‘Cabinet de Mr. de Jullienne’. Jean de Jullienne (1686-1766) was a wealthy textile manufacturer who became Watteau’s friend and greatest champion; it was to Jullienne (along with the dealer Edmé Gersaint, the Abbé Haranger, and the amateur artist Nicolas Hénin) that Watteau bequeathed his estate, which included almost all of his drawings. Shortly after Watteau’s death in 1721, Jullienne began systematically trying to buy up all of the artist’s paintings, and it was soon thereafter that he conceived the monumental project of engraving and publishing the complete corpus of Watteau’s production. Whether Jullienne was the first owner of La Lorgneuse and Le Lorgneur, or whether he acquired them later is unknown, but they were his by 1727, when the engraving of Le Lorgneur was announced. What is clear is that Jullienne did not own the paintings for long, and he was not especially concerned to keep them together as a pair, if indeed they had been conceived as a pair to begin with. According to the collector and connoisseur Pierre-Jean Mariette, writing in 1731, Le Lorgneur was already by that date in the possession of ‘M. Coypel, premier peintre de M. le duc d’Orléans’, presumably the painter Charles Coypel (1694-1752), who is known to have owned several works by Watteau. La Lorgneuse, on the other hand, next appeared in the collection of Germain-Louis Chauvelin, Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under Louis XV, not paired with Le Lorgneur, but with Watteau’s L’Accord Parfait (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), a painting that Jullienne had purchased in 1724 from the estate of Nicolas Hénin, who had acquired it directly from the artist. Exactly when Jullienne sold La Lorgneuse and L’Accord Parfait to Chauvelin is unknown, but neither picture appears in the manuscript catalogue of Jullienne’s collection drawn up in 1756. It is worth noting that in Hénin’s collection, formed during Watteau’s lifetime, L’Accord Parfait was paired with the recently rediscovered La Surprise. It is probable that these small genre scenes, all painted on panels of roughly the same size, all of flirtatious or gently erotic subject matter – pictures including La Lorgneuse and La Lorgneur, La Surprise and L’Accord Parfait, but also La Sérénade Italienne (Stockholm, Nationalmuseum), Le Teste á Teste (lost, engraved by Audran) and others – were conceived as independent compositions that might then be mixed and matched into whatever combination of pairs the owner – or Jullienne – wished.

The evidence would suggest that it was Jullienne who paired La Lorgneuse and Le Lorgneur, and perhaps only as prints, not as painted compositions. There is no indication that the paintings were christened with their titles by Watteau, himself: the familiar titles first appear on Scotin’s prints, commissioned by Jullienne. Furthermore, while Le Lorgneur was engraved in the same direction as the original painting, La Lorgneuse is in reverse, a choice which makes the pairing more aesthetically pleasing and traditionally balanced. It should be remembered that for Jullienne, the prints after Watteau’s works were as – or more – useful in developing the artist’s posthumous reputation than the trade in his actual paintings, and Jullienne’s great publishing project may well have been the more profitable enterprise. For Jullienne, marrying two complementary compositions of a young flutist and his would-be lady love into decorative prints that could be sold in pairs was no doubt a savvy commercial decision.

Indeed, the strange titles given the two paintings do not stand up to close scrutiny. In La Lorgneuse, the beautiful girl with the exquisite profile, far from ogling or leering at her suitor, looks upon him demurely, with downcast eyes, crossed ankles and folded hands, nervously twisting the apron in her lap in hopeful anticipation. The boy returns her glance with a remarkable intensity in his piercing eyes, his unusually direct if ambiguous expression a rarity in Watteau’s world of studied indirection. Poised on a moment of anticipation, an instant of decision yet to be decided, the painting is a work of nuance and the most heightened emotional delicacy, far from the vulgar burlesque that the title of Scotin’s engraving would suggest.

The positioning of the boy’s recorder and the basket of overripe grapes between his feet carry obvious erotic overtones, but also allude to a classical, Arcadian world of pastoral love. Underscoring a Virgilian sensibility is the Roman haircut of the boy, who wears a ‘Spanish’ ruff and fancy costume; the russet, autumnal palette with which the artist chose to colour the scene; and rustic buildings in the background which derive from the Venetian Renaissance landscape drawings by Domenico Campagnola and Titian that Watteau is known to have copied in the collection of his patron, Pierre Crozat. (I have been unable to locate a direct source for the buildings, but they closely resemble those found in Watteau’s copies of Venetian landscapes in the Art Institute of Chicago [R/P. 433] and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Art [R/P.431]).

Two marvellous drawings survive that Watteau employed in the preparation of his composition. One, a sheet in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (R/P.455), includes an exacting study of the arms, hands and flute of the musician in La Lorgneuse. Florence Gétreau has noted that this drawing is the only one in which Watteau accurately observed the flûte à bec, or small recorder, and its precise playing technique. She quotes the famous 18th-century instrument maker Jacques Hotteterre, le Romain, advising that ‘one must hold the recorder directly in front of one, placing the top end (called the beak) between the lips […] The elbows must not be raised, but should fall loosely to the sides of the body. The hands should be placed so that the middle finger of each hand, being longer than the others is a bit bent. In this way it will fall directly over the hole, facilitating covering the hole’ (1707, Principes de la flûte traversière ou flûte d’Allemagne…De la flûte à bec, ou flûte douce, et du Hautbois, divisez par traitéz, p. 39, quoted in M.M. Grasselli and P. Rosenberg (eds.), Watteau 1684/1721, exhibition catalogue, Washington, Paris and Berlin, 1984-1985, pp. 540-541). According to Gétreau, this diminutive recorder was ‘too intimate an instrument to figure in the larger orchestral groupings, which became increasingly important’, but ‘it continued to be played, particularly solo, by amateurs…’. Although Watteau’s drawing has all the immediacy of a study from life, in fact it closely follows an engraving by Bernard Picart that illustrates Hotteterre’s 1707 manual.

A second drawing for La Lorgneuse – a justly celebrated trois crayons sheet in the Louvre (fig. 4; R/P. 482) – lays down the profile of the girl herself and recreates, with marvellous delicacy, the fall of light from the setting sun that brilliantly illuminates the curve of her forehead, the bridge of her nose, the point of her chin and the shimmering folds of fabric around her shoulder. A third drawing, in the Musée Bonnat, Bayonne (R/P.516) has been associated by Rosenberg and Prat with the head of the flutist, but its relationship to La Lorgneuse is not entirely convincing.

The drawings for La Lorgneuse have been dated by Rosenberg and Prat to around 1716, and the painting – known to most authors only from Scotin’s print – has also been placed most often to circa 1715-1716. However, examination of the painting itself suggests a somewhat more mature date, probably closer to 1718, the same approximate dating given by the present writer to the closely related La Surprise, L’Accord Parfait and La Sérénade Italienne. The amplitude of the figures, their full occupancy of the space in which they sit and their large scale within their comparatively confined setting all point to the moment in Watteau’s mature career that follows, rather than precedes, the two versions of The Embarkation to Cythera.

The provenance of La Lorgneuse is distinguished. Its first recorded owner, Jullienne, sold it before 1756, as previously mentioned, to Germain-Louis Chauvelin, marquis de Grosbois (1685-1762), in whose estate sale it appeared. It was identified as engraved by Scotin and was paired with L’Accord Parfait. Although Chauvelin could not have bought the picture before 1727, at least six years after Watteau’s death, he had, in fact, previously commissioned a series of four large arabesque decorations from Watteau for his house on the rue Richelieu in Paris, on the corner of rue Villedo; the set of paintings has been untraced since the 18th century, but it was engraved for the Recueil (DV 98-101) and announced in the Mercure de France in 1731. Chauvelin, born into a family of lawyers to the Parlement de Paris, served as garde de sceaux and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs under Louis XV. A protégé of Cardinal Fleury, he eventually fell out with his patron, was disgraced in 1737 following a court intrigue, and was exiled to the provinces, first to his château de Grosbois, then to Bourges, before returning to Paris in 1746. An enlightened amateur, Chauvelin and his wife were intimates of the celebrated salonist and bibliophile, the comtesse de Verrue, and it may have been she who facilitated their introduction to Watteau.

Passing through a series of sales in Paris, where its exceptional quality was admired and its ‘belle couleur’ was invariably compared to that of Titian, the painting travelled to England at the turn of the 19th century, appearing in the famous collection of Samuel Rogers (1763-1855), the Romantic poet who had the good luck to inherit a British banking fortune. It was one of five paintings (and one drawing) by Watteau that appeared in his estate sale in 1856. Rogers was a friend and patron of J.M.W. Turner and La Lorgneuse appears in the background of Turner’s tribute to Watteau, the small painting exhibited in 1831 as Watteau Study (fig 5; Tate, London; Turner bequest 1856). Curiously, although Turner would certainly have known the original from Rogers’s collection, he must have turned to Scotin’s print as an aide-mémoire, as the composition – accurately coloured – appears in reverse.

The painting will appear in the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Watteau’s paintings by Alan Wintermute, currently in preparation.

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