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Three head studies of a girl wearing a hat

Three head studies of a girl wearing a hat
black and red chalk, graphite, watermark with letters ‘[…OA…ENE]’
5 1/2 x 9 3/4 in. (14 x 24.7 cm.)
Private collection, Switzerland.
with Eugene V. Thaw & Co., New York.
John R. Gaines (1929-2005), Kentucky; Sotheby’s, New York, 17 November 1986, lot 22.
?Acquired by Ann and Gordon Getty from the above.
E. de Goncourt, Catalogue raisonné de l’œuvre peint, dessiné et gravé d’Antoine Watteau, Paris, 1875, p. 272, under no. 518, and p. 290, under no. 622.
K.T. Parker and J. Mathey, Antoine Watteau, Paris, 1957, no. 717, ill.
M. Roland Michel, Watteau. Un Artiste au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1984, p. 335.
M.M. Grasselli, The Drawings of Antoine Watteau. Stylistic Development and Problems of Chronology, Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 1987, I, no. 203, II, fig. 278.
M.M. Grasselli, ‘News’, Watteau Society Bulletin, III, 1994, p. 56, ill.
P. Rosenberg and L.-A. Prat, Antoine Watteau, 1684-1721. Catalogue raisonné des dessins, Milan, 1994, II, no. 438, ill.
C. Bailey, ‘Books in review: Antoine Watteau, 1684-1721. Catalogue raisonné des dessins’, On Paper, I, no. 5, May-June 1997, p. 46, fig. 5.
H. Wine, ‘Watteau. London’, The Burlington Magazine, CLIII, no. 133, July 2001, pp. 89-90, fig. 55.
L.-A. Prat, ‘Trente ans et des poussières. Une vue cavalière du marché du dessin’, Revue de l’art, CXLIII, 2004, p. 93, fig. 6.
E. Lajer-Burcharth, ‘Drawing Time’, October, CLI, Winter 2015, p. 18, ill.
L.-A. Prat, Le Dessin français au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 2017, p. 54, fig. 84.
London, Royal Academy of Arts, Antoine Watteau. The Drawings, 2011, no. 53, ill., and p. 24 (catalogue by P. Rosenberg and L.-A. Prat).

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Lot Essay

This masterpiece among the famous head studies by the great French painter of fêtes galantes has rarely been shown publicly: it appeared for the last – and the first? – time at auction in 1986, together with the rest of the celebrated collection of drawings formed by the Kentucky horse breeder John Gaines, where it achieved the highest price at the time for a drawing by Watteau; and it seems never to have been included in an exhibition until 2011, when it was shown in London at the Royal Academy’s monographic show of the artist’s most beautiful drawings. Gaines also owned another drawing of a very different subject matter, which was acquired at the sale by the J. Paul Getty Museum (inv. 86.GB.594; see Rosenberg and Prat, op. cit., II, no. 486, ill.).
Originally, the present drawing measured at least 2 7/8 in. more in length and included at right another head study of a different model, a young woman. This study was cut from the rest of the sheet somewhere before 1825, the date of the death of the state official, writer, artist and collector Dominique-Vivant Denon, to whom it belonged (Rosenberg and Prat, op. cit., II, no. 439, ill.). The original appearance of the sheet is recorded in a counterproof, which reverses the composition (fig. 1; see Rosenberg and Prat, op. cit., II, p. 726, fig.438a). The separation of the three studies of the girl from that of the young woman resulted in the words of Colin Bailey in ‘a more concentrated – and, effectively, more beautiful – composition’ (Bailey, op. cit., 1997, p.48). Indeed, the almost cinematographic illusion of seeing the girl move and waver between shyness and curiosity is so successful that one is tempted to wonder whether it may have been the artist himself who cut up the original sheet.
According to his contemporaries, the collectors Jean de Julienne and the Count Caylus, Watteau drew figures from life with no particular purpose in mind (Bailey, op. cit., 1997, p. 48), and the drawings can be regarded as independent works in which the artist paid particular attention to a graceful or effective mise-en-page. Nevertheless, Watteau also sometimes reused some of the studies in his paintings. Margaret Morgan Grasselli identified the head study at left in the present drawing with a figure in the left foreground of Les Plaisirs du bal, a painting at the Dulwich Picture Gallery (fig. 2; inv. DPG156; see Grasselli, op. cit., 1987, II, under no. 203; and M. Hochmann, Watteau et la fête galante, exhib. cat., Valenciennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 2004, p. 65, fig. 10). The two other heads were selected for reproduction in print by the engraver Jean Audran (1666-1756) for the collection of Figures de différents caractères, de paysages et d’études dessinées d’après nature, par Antoine Watteau, gravées à l’eau forte, published in Paris between 1726 and 1728 (figs. 3, 4). This extensive print series, on which some forty printmakers collaborated, was commissioned by Jean de Julienne and based on the more than three hundred works which he brought together by his friend Watteau, who died prematurely in 1721.
A date for the study is suggested by the visit to Watteau of the Venetian painter Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734) in December 1716, on his return to Venice from London, in the company of the financier and collector Pierre Crozat. Ricci is known to have copied several of Watteau’s drawings. A study by him of the same girl as seen in Watteau’s work presented here is either copied after a lost work by the Frenchman, or perhaps made by Ricci after the same model (fig. 5; Windsor Castle Royal Library, inv. RCIN906992; see A. Blunt and E. Croft-Murray, Venetian Drawings of the XVII and XVIII Century in the Collection of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle, London, 1957, no. 354, fig. 41). The proposed date is also supported by the fact that it was in these years that Watteau began to juxtapose several head studies of the same model on a sheet. Another example of the extraordinary expressiveness of these sheets is found in the five head studies in red chalk for which the same girl with her rounded face and prominent cheekbones may have modelled, here with a more mischievous air, in a drawing sold at Christie’s London, 2 July 2013, lot 57 (fig. 6; see Rosenberg and Prat, op. cit., II, no. 440, ill.). Other head studies of a child wearing a very similar hat are in the Louvre (inv. RF 42668) and in a private collection, and were also engraved for the Figures de différents caractères (Rosenberg and Prat, op. cit., II, nos. 408, 409, ill.).
The surprisingly dense and powerful application of black chalk in the girl’s bonnet, known as a toquet, stands in strong contrast to the soft and delicate use of red chalk to render the subtleties of her skin, of which the tone is conveyed ‘with light hatching hatching, so tight that it appears like a shadow’ (Roland Michel, op. cit., p. 136). He must first have drawn the head at left, starting with a sketch in graphite, of which the gray lines can be clearly distinguished from the black chalk he used to elaborate the study (for other examples of Watteau’s use of graphite, see Rosenberg and Prat, op. cit.,II, nos. 445, 451, 452, 454 ill.). At the beginning of his career, Watteau worked almost solely in red chalk, but later introduced black chalk as well as white chalk in his drawings. While the exact date of this change in technique is not generally agreed upon, Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat place it around 1715, when Watteau produced several powerful studies of men in Persian dress and of ‘Savoyards’, after which ‘the black chalk finally asserts itself as a decisive element in the construction of monumental figures, reaching a form of pictoriality’ (Prat, op. cit., 2011, p. 23). In the present sheet, the black bonnets were drawn last, after Watteau finished off the faces, but the artist’s creative process was not always the same; sometimes he would proceed in the opposite direction; Marianne Roland Michel notes on this subject that Watteau allowed himself ‘the freedom of an unconstrained method’ (op. cit., p. 76). It is in part thanks to his mastery in varying and combining the use of black, red and white chalk (the ‘trois crayons’) – and sometimes, as here, graphite – that Antoine Watteau ranks among the greatest of all French draftsmen. Few drawings by him still in private hands demonstrate this as brilliantly and ravishingly as the sheet offered here.

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