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Nicolas Lancret (Paris 1690-1743)
Nicolas Lancret (Paris 1690-1743)

An elegant couple singing by candlelight ('The Duet')

Details
Nicolas Lancret (Paris 1690-1743) An elegant couple singing by candlelight ('The Duet') oil on panel 7 ½ x 6 ¼ in. (19 x 15.6 cm.)
Provenance
Madame Saint Sauveur (presumably Madeleine Suzanne Goullet de Rugy, wife of Jean Anne de Grégoire de Saint-Sauveur, Marquis de Saint-Sauveur (1720-1777)); her sale, Hötel d'Aligre, Paris, 12 February 1776 and days following, lot 51.
Verrier collection; his sale, Hötel d'Aligre, Paris, 18 November 1776 and days following, lot 92, where acquired by
"Vautris" or "Vautrin" (according to an annotation in the Frick Art Reference Library copy of sale catalogue).
Charles Francois René Mesnard, Chevalier de Clesle (d. 1803); his sale, Paillet, Paris, 4 December 1786, and days following, lot 62 (incorrectly lists painting support as canvas).
Louis Jean Francois Collet (1722-1787), Paris; his sale, (†), Paris, 96 rue de Cléry, 14-23 May 1787, lot 289, where acquired by
Jean Baptiste Pierre Lebrun (1748-1813), Paris.
Probably with Alexis Delahante, Paris, according to an old inscription, as recorded in M.W. Brockwell, 1915 (loc. cit.).
Sir John Charles Robinson (1824-1913), London, from whom acquired in 1872 by
Sir Francis Cook, Bart. (1817-1901), Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey, and by descent to his son
Sir Frederick Cook, 2nd Bart. (1844-1920) and by descent to his son
Sir Herbert Cook, Bart. (1868-1939) and by descent to
The Trustees of the Cook 1939 Picture Settlement; Christie's, London, 6 July 1984, lot 108, as 'Attributed to Nicolas Lancret', where acquired by the following.
with Harari & Johns, London.
Anonymous sale; Tajan, Paris, 17 December 1997, lot 321, where acquired by the following.
Private collection,
Literature
E. Bocher, 'Les Gravures françaises du XVIIIe siècle, ou catalogue raisonné des estampes, eaux-fortes', part 4, Nicolas Lancret, Paris, 1877, pp. 95, 97.
E.F.S. Dilke, 'L'Art français au Guildhall de Londres en 1898', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 3e pér., XX, no. 496, October 1898, p. 330.
E.F.S. Dilke, French Painters Of the XVIIIth Century, London, 1899, pp. 85-86, where attribution to Watteau questioned.
E. Staley, Watteau and His School, London, 1902, p. 146, as Watteau.
E.H. Zimmermann, Watteau: des Meisters Werke, Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1912, p. 118, where listed among rejected attributions to Watteau; erroneously lists support as canvas.
M.W. Brockwell, 'A Catalogue Of the Paintings at Doughty House, Richmond & Elsewhere in the Collection of Sir Frederick Cook, Bt...', H. Cook, ed., Ill, English, French, Early Flemish, German and Spanish Schools and Addenda, London, 1915, p. 56, no. 437, pl. VII, as Watteau.
G. Wildenstein, Lancret, Paris, 1924, p. 105, no. 540, fig. 201.
Abridged Catalogue of the Pictures at Doughty House, Richmond, Surrey in the Collection of Sir Herbert Cook, Bart., London, 1932, p. 7, no. 437 (13), as 'Antoine Watteau'.
H. Adhémar and R. Huyghe, Watteau, sa vie-son oeuvre, Paris, 1950, p. 234, no. 237, as possibly by either Jean Raoux or Jean Baptiste Santerre.
É. Dacier, 'Catalogues des ventes et livrets de salons illustrés et annotés par Gabriel de Saint-Aubin. 12. Catalogue de la vente Verrier (1776)', Gazette des Beaux-Arts, 6e pér., XLl, nos. 1012-1013, May-June 1953, pp. 307, 317, 318, 331, n. 7.
'Two More Watteaus?', The Watteau Society Bulletin, no. 2, 1985, pp. 17, 18.
Exhibited
London, Guildhall, Catalogue of the Loan Exhibition of Pictures by Painters of the French School, Spring 1898, no. 53, as 'Watteau'.
London, Burlington Fine Arts Club, French Art Of the Eighteenth Century, Spring-early Summer 1913, no. 6, as 'Watteau'.
Cambridge, Fitzwilliam Museum, 1940s, on loan (according to a label on the reverse).
Tokyo, Gallery Iida (in association with Harari & Johns, Ltd.), An Exhibition of French Painting, 1600-1800, 7 June-2 July 1988, no. 15.
Tokyo, Odakyu Grand Gallery; Umeda-Osaka, Daimaru Museum; Hakodate, Hokkaido Hakodate Museum of Art; Yokohama, Sogo Museum of Art, Three Masters of French Rococo: Boucher, Fragonard, Lancret, 4 April-12 August 1990, no. 48.
Sale Room Notice
We are grateful to John Somerville, Keeper of the Cook Collection Archive, for providing the following additional literature and exhibition history for this lot:

Literature:
Abridged Catalogue of the Pictures at Doughty House, Richmond (Belonging to Sir Frederick Cook, Bart., Visconde de Monserrate), London, 1907, p. 7, no. 13 as Watteau, hanging in The First, or Old Gallery.
Abridged Catalogue of the Pictures at Doughty House, Richmond (Belonging to Sir Frederick Cook, Bart., Visconde de Monserrate), London, 1914, p. 7, no. 13 as Watteau, hanging in The First, or Old Gallery.

Exhibited:
(Probably) Hamstead, London, Kenwood House, c. 1950-1960.
Manchester, Manchester City Art Gallery, c. 1960-1984, on loan.

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Lot Essay

This gentle and moving image was long attributed to Antoine Watteau; once a treasure of the celebrated Cook Collection, the painting was praised as “of singular beauty and distinguished by an intimate pathos.” Painted around 1720, The Duet likely predates Watteau’s death and stands at the start of the career of Nicolas Lancret, Watteau’s most talented and original acolyte; with its creamy brushwork and sensitive luminosity, it can be recognized as one of the artist’s most pleasing confections.

Although its debt to the master is pronounced, The Duet is a rare candlelit scene from the circle of Watteau. In fact, only one painting by Watteau himself is set to candlelight, the famous Love in the Italian Theatre (c. 1718; Gemäldegalerie, Berlin). In The Duet, a young man and woman study a musical manuscript that is illuminated by the light of a single taper. Absorbed in their singing, their figures drawn close to each other, the boy’s left hand, holding the candlestick, engages the woman’s exposed right arm in a gesture of tender affection. This type of nocturnal genre scene was a specialty of 17th-century Dutch painters such as Gerrit Dou and Gottfried Schalken, whose works were widely collected in France throughout the 18th century, and contemporary French painters including Jean Raoux and Jean-Baptiste Santerre supplied nocturnal subjects in the Dutch manner to satisfy the popular demand. Indeed, the taste for this type of picture was promoted by Watteau’s friend and supporter, Edme François Gersaint, and actively marketed by the art dealer Jean Baptiste Pierre Le Brun, who himself would at one time own the present painting.

Although the correct attribution of The Duet was eventually forgotten, and from the 19th century onward it was given to the more famous Watteau, the painting was recognized as a superior example of Lancret’s art when it appeared in the Verrier Sale in 1776 and was copied in a marginal illustration by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin in his copy of the catalogue. In a rare editorial commentary, Saint-Aubin noted beside his sketch that Lancret’s original was “très beau.”

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