A welcome addition to Gillot’s catalogue of drawings, this newly discovered preparatory study relates to the character of Scaramouche featured at left in the artist’s Les Deux carrosses in the Louvre, painted about 1707 (fig. 1).
Antoine Watteau's master, Gillot is acknowledged as “the pioneer of representation of theatrical scenes in painting during the age of the Régence" (W. Kelsch, Theater im Spiegel der bildenden Kunst, Berlin 1938, p. 23). He based Les Deux carrosses on a short sketch by Jean-François Regnard and Charles Dufresny, appended to their three-act comedy La Foire Saint-Germain, first performed in Paris in 1695. Both sporting women’s headdresses, the two characters from the commedia dell'arte, Scaramouche and Arlequin, break into an altercation when their respective carriages meet in a narrow lane. As neither agrees to back up and let the other pass, a passing judge attempts to mediate between the two, but ends up being chased off stage.
Flawlessly executed by Gillot in trois crayons, Scaramouche is rendered in his traditional attire, dressed in black, with a black beret and white ruff. Its companion sheet is a study for the figure of Arlequin, now in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon, in comparable technique and similarly defined in the background by dense cross hatching in black chalk (fig. 2; J. Tonkovich, Claude Gillot and the Theater, with a Catalogue of Drawings, Ph.D. diss., New Brunswick, Rutgers University, 2002, no. 54). In polished finish and use of chalks, the present drawing further relates to a study for the figure at the right of Gillot’s painting Le Tombeau de Maître André, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (Tonkovich, op. cit., no. 53). Technically and stylistically, these three drawings form a cohesive group that adds visual substance to Gillot’s drawing practice and expands his range as a draftsman, as he is best known for quirky sketches in pen and ink.
Gillot approached the design of Les Deux carrosses starting with two sketches now in the Louvre (inv. RF 29326) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (inv. 2006.93), where he outlined the scene and its characters in his signature abbreviated forms (ibid, nos. 8, 17). Once the scene was set, he developed the carefully finished studies for Scaramouche and Arlequin, giving specific attention to their elaborate attire, and making slight changes while studying the model as in the pentimento in Scaramouche's left hand. As evident from the present sheet, Gillot used a chair in his studio to simulate the door enclosing the front of the carriage.
In addition to being a significant addition to Gillot's own œuvre, the drawing offered here strongly suggests that drawings like this one inspired Watteu's celebrated trois crayons technique and therefore some of the greatest drawings of 18th century.
We are grateful to Jennifer Tonkovich for her assistance in the research of this drawing.
Fig. 1. Claude Gillot, Les Deux carrosses, Museé du Louvre, Paris © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY.
Fig. 2. Claude Gillot, Study for Arlequin, his right arm outstretched, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Lyon.