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Variation, transformation and interpretation: Watteau and Lucian Freud


A work which has remained in storage at the National Gallery of Victoria for many years is the small panel called Les jaloux  (The jealous ones) 496/2 (fig. 1), acquired in 1910 as being by the brush of the French painter famous for his idyllic fêtes galantes: Antoine Watteau (1684–1721). According to the collector and writer Jean Pierre Mariette (1694–1774), Watteau included a painting called Les jaloux with those he submitted to the Academie Royale in Paris on 30 July 1712 when they won him the title agrée, to be followed by full academy membership in 1717.

Les jaloux was later in the possession of the artist’s friend, Jean de Julienne (1686–1766), and after Watteau’s death was engraved by Louis Gérard Scotin for inclusion in the Recueil Julienne which consisted of four portfolios of prints of all known paintings by Watteau. M. Edmond Goncourt wrote that Les jaloux was last heard of in 1786 and was presumed lost.1 Μ. M. Grasselli & Ε Rosenberg (assisted by N. Parmentier), Watteau 1684–1721, National Gallery of Art, Washington, exh. cat. 1984–85, p. 274, no. 13. Martin Eidelberg reviewing Grasselli & Rosenberg in Master Drawing, vol. XXIII–XXIV 1, Spring 1986, p. 277, casts doubt on the authenticity of a drawing in the Rouen Museum containing a study for the Pierrot in Les jaloux, the poor quality of which suggests that it is a copy after a lost Watteau original. But in 1904 the writer on Watteau, M. Fourcaud, was approached to comment on a painting in the possession of the Prince de Wagram, and wrote: ‘you have not been deceived, the panel in question is indeed by Watteau. We have here a composition called Les Jaloux which we know from an engraving by Scotin.’2 Correspondence files, Felton Bequest, 2/2, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1910. M. Fourcaud had written articles for the Revue de l’art between 1901 and 1909. The book on Watteau in which he intended to illustrate Les jaloux never appeared. The Prince de Wagram, who during the early years of the century acquired a large group of masterly paintings by the Impressionists and by Cézanne,3 For a list of paintings in the Wagram collection, see René Gimpel, The Diary of an Art Dealer, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1966, p. 372. The Prince was killed in the war in 1918; the collection passed to his heir and was later sold. in 1910 sold two works (from the earlier Wagram collection) to Melbourne: Puvis de Chavannes’ L’Hiver and Watteau’s Les jaloux. The latter, the Felton Adviser was told, had been in the family for eighty years. Fourcaud’s belief that this was the lost Les jaloux was, however, not shared by later French scholars of 18th-century art.4 E. Dacier, A. Vuaflart & J. Hérold, Jean de Julienne et les graveur de Watteau au X VIII siècle, 3 vols, Societé pour le members l’Etudes de la Graveurs Français, Paris, 1921–29; no. 127 (perdu); H. Adhémar & R. Huyghe, Watteau, Pierre Tisné, Paris, 1950, cat. no. 64, p. 208,pl. 31; E. Camesasca & Ρ. Rosenberg, Tout I’oeuvre peint de Watteau (1970), 2nd edn, Flamarion, Paris, 1987, no. 80. In Melbourne the 1943 catalogue of the National Gallery still listed the work as being by Watteau; in the 1948 edition it was called ‘attributed to’; and in 1973 it was described as ‘after Watteau’. 

Comparison of the picture with the engraving by Scotin in the Print Room (fig. 2) shows that the National Gallery of Victoria’s 496/2 closely emulates the lost painting in size, format and detail. The panel may be assumed to convey the colours of the original, but lacks the magic, the subtlety of tone and the light touch of Watteau’s brush.5 John Payne and the Department of Conservation suggest 496/2 as dating from the 18th century, unusually painted on walnut, set in an 18th-century frame carved and gilded in Louis XVth style. Since the 1940s Les jaloux has been withdrawn from display. It has never been discussed in the quarterly or annual bulletins of the Gallery nor has it figured in exhibitions. Yet in 1984 the picture re-emerged in an unexpected context.

In the centenary year of the artist’s birth a Watteau retrospective was organised by the National Gallery in Washington, the Louvre in Paris and Schloss Charlottenburg in Potsdam. The catalogue reproduced 496/2 to illustrate a connection with Pierrot content (fig. 3) which, in 1977, had entered the Thyssen collection in Lugano.6 Grasselli & Rosenberg, cat. nos 13, 14. During laboratory examination of Pierrot content it became clear that Watteau had copied his Les jaloux onto canvas before introducing alterations to justify its new title. The outline of the head of the woman from 496/2 on the right can still be seen in Pierrot content in the gap between the woman with the fan and her neighbour. The artist thus played a variation on his earlier motifs: the aggressive closeness of the lady who touches the arm of Pierrot to draw attention to herself in 496/2 has given way to a hurt withdrawal in the Lugano painting; all that remains of the tambourine, drapery and folly stick at her feet in 496/2 is a dark piece of cloth; added is the figure of a young admirer. The opening in the clouds on the left side is smaller in the Lugano version than in Melbourne’s and it would seem that the foliage is more unified in the former. The difference in format is not, however, due to Watteau. The picture has been cut down at a later period: the measurements of height are almost identical, but the sides have been curtailed, so that the sphinx on the right and a great part of the forest on the left have been eliminated. 

 

In both pictures the figures are characters from the Italian Comedy models to which Watteau had been introduced by his teacher Gillot. The silky lustre of the striped costume, the white ruffles, the elaborate bonnets shine forth in front of the dark sylvan background: ‘It is to the guitar of the Italian Comedy that all these landscapes are attuned, and it is their troupe, thoroughly and arrogantly at home, who give splendid utterance – on the brink of the fountain, at the margin or in the clearing of a forest – to those sweet accents…’ wrote the Goncourt brothers about Watteau’s fêtes galantes.7 Edmond de Goncourt & Jules de Goncourt, French XVIII Century Painters, Phaidon Press, London, 1948, pp. 3–4. 

If Watteau’s Pierrot content was a variation on Les jaloux, the former in turn gave rise to a much more radical transformation at the hands of the English painter Lucian Freud. The first echo of Watteau’s composition occurs in Portrait of a man (1981–82), depicting Baron Heinrich von Thyssen Bornemisza (fig. 4). Over his right shoulder part of Watteau’s group (enlarged) appears: the Baron is in the place of Pierrot, and the pretty, fair young woman plays her guitar for him.8 Lawrence Gowing, Lucian Freud, Thames & Hudson, London, 1982, pp. 202, 203, 206; for illustrations see Grasselli & Rosenberg, cat. no. 13. Freud himself has described the next step. He had found Watteau’s music party in a catalogue reproduction: ‘I intended first to make a copy of it. Then I thought why not do one of my own?’9 Grasselli & Rosenberg, pi. 172. 

  

A pastel copy of the group of figures was made which retained the costumes but altered the doll-like features of Watteau’s figures by building up the bone structure of noses, cheeks and jaw-bones (fig. 5). In preparation for the canvas of Large interior W.11 he enlisted his daughter Bella to take the place of the guitar player; his son Kai, in a lemon-coloured suit, posed as Pierrot (fig. 6). On either side two older women who had sat for Freud in earlier years complete the group. Instead of occupying a bench in a park, the assembled company is seated on an iron bedstead, indoors, in the studio, through whose window the rooftops and chimneys of Paddington W.11 can be seen. A straggling pot plant (variously described as a verbena or a pelargonium) replaces Watteau’s park. On the left under the window a tap runs into a large sink, with plumbing winding along underneath; the walls of the ageing Victorian building are mottled with damp. Freud, usually concerned with portraiture of a single model, has adopted the structure of Watteau’s group – a structure which in its turn has ancestors among Dutch 17th-century group portraits – but has abandoned Watteau’s narrative. Bella plays the lute, the others are deeply absorbed in listening. 

The large canvas with its lifesize figures has an extraordinary impact: subdued in colour, strong in tone, with vigorous open brushwork, it concentrates the viewer’s eye on the reflections on Bella’s shoulders and collar-bone, on the half-tones modelling the faces of the older women, the modulations of light in the festive, yet not altogether fashionable, clothing which transform Watteau’s fantasy into a scene unmistakably 20th-century, yet private and personal. 

Though 496/2 conveys Watteau’s art at one remove, as it were, it forms a stepping-stone in the illuminating sequence from original to variation and interpretative transposition. Les Jaloux in Melbourne is only one of the many copies that were made of Watteau’s original, at a time when there was a pressing demand from collectors for the new theme of love and jealousy enacted by members of the Comedie Italienne in a sylvan setting.10 Adhémar & Huyghe and Camesasca & Rosenberg refer to several copies of Les jaloux of which only one remains, namely the picture in Melbourne. Les jaloux, Pierrot content, and La partie quarré are the earliest known examples of this genre in Watteau’s oeuvre. Eighteenth-century copyists suppressed their own hand to fulfil collectors’ wishes.11 For an important discussion of copies see Roger Benjamin, ‘Recovering Authors, the Modern Copy: Copy Exhibitions and Matisse’, Art History, vol. 12, no. 2,1989, pp. 176 ff. Freud suppresses Watteau’s conflict of love and jealousy and abandons the theatrical stereotypes and colourful brushwork. His figures, all of them searching portraits, are united in music.   

Dr Ursula Hoff  

Notes

1         Μ. M. Grasselli & Ε Rosenberg (assisted by N. Parmentier), Watteau 1684–1721, National Gallery of Art, Washington, exh. cat. 1984–85, p. 274, no. 13. Martin Eidelberg reviewing Grasselli & Rosenberg in Master Drawing, vol. XXIII–XXIV 1, Spring 1986, p. 277, casts doubt on the authenticity of a drawing in the Rouen Museum containing a study for the Pierrot in Les Jaloux, the poor quality of which suggests that it is a copy after a lost Watteau original. 

 2         Correspondence files, Felton Bequest, 2/2, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 1910. M. Fourcaud had written articles for the Revue de l’art between 1901 and 1909. The book on Watteau in which he intended to illustrate Les Jaloux never appeared. 

3         For a list of paintings in the Wagram collection, see René Gimpel, The Diary of an Art Dealer, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1966, p. 372. The Prince was killed in the war in 1918; the collection passed to his heir and was later sold. 

4         E. Dacier, A. Vuaflart & J. Hérold, Jean de Julienne et les graveur de Watteau au X VIII siècle, 3 vols, Societé pour le members l’Etudes de la Graveurs Français, Paris, 1921–29; no. 127 (perdu); H. Adhémar & R. Huyghe, Watteau, Pierre Tisné, Paris, 1950, cat. no. 64, p. 208,pl. 31; E. Camesasca & Ρ. Rosenberg, Tout I’oeuvre peint de Watteau (1970), 2nd edn, Flamarion, Paris, 1987, no. 80. 

5         John Payne and the Department of Conservation suggest 496/2 as dating from the 18th century, unusually painted on walnut, set in an 18th-century frame carved and gilded in Louis XVth style. 

 6         Grasselli & Rosenberg, cat. nos 13, 14. 

7         Edmond de Goncourt & Jules de Goncourt, French XVIII Century Painters, Phaidon Press, London, 1948, pp. 3–4. 

8         Lawrence Gowing, Lucian Freud, Thames & Hudson, London, 1982, pp. 202, 203, 206; for illustrations see Grasselli & Rosenberg, cat. no. 13. 

9         Grasselli & Rosenberg, pi. 172. 

10     Adhémar & Huyghe and Camesasca & Rosenberg refer to several copies of Les Jaloux of which only one remains, namely the picture in Melbourne. 

11     For an important discussion of copies see Roger Benjamin, ‘Recovering Authors, the Modern Copy: Copy Exhibitions and Matisse’, Art History, vol. 12, no. 2,1989, pp. 176 ff.