A study for this drawing is in a private collection in Paris, P. Rosenberg, Fragonard, exhib. cat., Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais and elsewhere, 1988, no. 414. The sketch in Paris is done in black chalk with light brown wash freely applied. The composition is the same as that of the present drawing, but lacks definition: faces in the Paris drawing are not detailed, the architecture is only summarily indicated and some figures on the left and right sides are missing.
Eunice Williams dates the drawings to the late 1770s. The first record of a drawing having this composition was in an anonymous Paris sale on 2 April 1787, lot 75, as 'un catalan jouant de la musette et faisant avec son pied danser des marionnettes'. The size of that drawing was 14 by 19 pouces, a size which corresponds neither to the present drawing nor to the Paris one. This discrepancy was explained by Alexandre Ananoff by the fact that during the 18th Century drawings were often measured with their mounts, A. Ananoff, L'oeuvre dessiné de Fragonard, Paris, 1961, I, under no. 256.
The composition was described by Eunice Williams as 'ambitious and formally organized like a stage with distinct groups of people who are taking part and watching the same central activity, in this case a man in a large hat who simultaneously plays a musette (held in his right arm) while manipulating some dancing dolls which are controlled by a string tied to the man's left foot'. An analoguous example of a drawing also done in two versions is, as pointed out by Eunice Williams, La Lecture. The sketch, in a private collection, was exhibited in Washington (E. Williams. Drawings by Fragonard in North American Collections, exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art, 1978, no. 59) and the finished drawing is in A. Ananoff, op. cit., no. 64.
We are grateful to Eunice Williams for her help in cataloguing this drawing and for confirming the attribution.