Jean-Antoine WATTEAU
(Valenciennes, 1684 - Nogent-sur-Marne, 1721)

To Protect A Beauty’s Honor (Pour garder l’honneur d’une Belle)

19 x 26.5 cm.. (7 ½ x 10 716 in.)
c. 1708 - 1709 Oil on prepared oak panel without parquetage Traces of red wax stamps on verso

• Probably Jeanne Baptiste d’Albert de Luynes collection, Countess of Verrue (1670-1736), Paris.
• Her Sale, Paris, March 27th, 1737, unnumbered lots as one of the "two pictures by Gillot or Vatteau."
• Probably Jean-Corneille Landgraff collection (d. after 1790), Paris.
• His Sale, Paris, maîtres Boileau et Hayot, December 21st, 1784, lot 25 (sold for 402 livres to M. Saubert or Sobert): “A. Watteau. Deux Tableaux, représentant des companies d’hommes & de femmes dans des Jardins ; dans l’un on remarque un grouppe (sic) de figures, occupées à faire de la musique ; dans l’autre, pour principal personnage, une jeune Dame & un homme sous un habillement de Pierrot. Ces deux tableaux sont chauds de couleur & gracieux pour leur composition. Sur bois, Haut. 9 pouc., larg. 11 pouces & demi.” (To Watteau. Two Pictures, depicting companies of men and women in Gardens; in one can be seen a group of figures occupied in making music; in the other, the main figures are a young Lady and a man dressed as Pierrot. These two pictures have wam gracious colors in their compositions. On wood. Height 9 inches, width 11 ½ inches.)
• Probably Antwerp, private collection.
• Antwerp Sale, Raedt, July 30th, 1812 (Lugt 8233), lot 44: “Deux petits Tableaux, peints par Watthot [sic], représentant des réjouissances de Carnaval.” (Two small pictures, painted by Watteau, depicting Carnival merry-making.)
• France, Private Collection.
• Docteur R., Paris Collection.
• London, Private Collection.
• Belgium, Private Collection.

Related Works (Select List)
- The figure of Pierrot was prepared in a red chalk drawing by the master (Paris, Jacquemart-André Museum, inv. 1592, see Rosenberg, Pratt, cat. 621). It can also be seen in Standing Figure of Pierrot, a decoration painted by Watteau and engraved by Louis Crépy (D.-V. 161).
- The sleeping cat is remniscent of a black chalk sketch dated by Rosenberg and Pratt to about 1718 (Paris, Louvre Museum, inv. 33358 ; Rosenberg and Pratt, cat. 614).
- La composition was engraved in the correct direction by Charles-Nicolas Cochin in 1729. Acquired by Jean de Julienne, it was included in his Recueuil: L’œuvre d’Antoine Watteau peintre du Roy en son Academie Roïale de Peinture et Sculpture gravé d’après ses Tableaux & Desseins originaux tirez du Cabinet du Roy & des plus curieux de l’Europe par les Soins de M. de Jullienne, Paris, n.d. [1735], pl. 19.
- The painting or its engraving inspired many later copies: in oil on wood (by Norbert Grund in 1750, 21 x 26 cm. Strahov Monastery, inv. 0566; 22.3 x 32.1 cm. with pendant Beauty, Don’t Listen to Anything (Belle n’écoutez rien), Hans Haler Collection, Locarno, in 1982, with a dubious signature of Gillot; in reverse, 22 x 32 cm. Private Collection); oil on canvas (19th century copy, 187 x 122 cm. (City Hall, Prayssas Castle, inv. IM47002185; trimmed copy, cited H. Courteaux-Enault; 65 x 81 cm. Private Collection; 68 x 91 cm. without Pierrot), in shades of pink (round D. 85.1 cm. sale, Christie’s South Kensington, London, February 7th, 1990, lot 214); in sanguine and black chalk (19.8 x 26.2 cm. Louvre Museum, inv. 33387); in sanguine (22.5 x 28.6 cm. Orleans, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. 1147c).
- Four figures were reproduced in Meissen porcelaine, Christie’s Sale, London, March 18th, 1987.
- Three figures appeared in Painting or The Monkey Painter, known through an engraving by Desplaces for the Julienne Recueil (D.-V. 168).
- Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux drew Harlequin and Pierrot after the engraving (Louvre Museum inv. RF 29999).
- The composition was often reproduced in the decorative arts: fans, a lock opening, and a tobacco box are known.

The Italian Comedians, Biancolelli, and Harlequin
On May 13th, 1697, for reasons which remain obscure, an order from the king forbade the Italian Comedians from playing in Paris. Nevertheless, even if this act meant that the Comedians were no longer in the king’s service, it didn’t, for all that, make the Italian characters disappear entirely from stages in Paris. Deprived of the Hôtel de Bourgogne, the Italian actors continued to make their way in the capital, as in the case of Pierre-François Biancolelli, who was known as “Dominique” and played his famous Harlequin first in the provinces and then at the Fair Theater, which took place in Paris during the Fair of Saint Germaine in winter and Saint Lawrence in summer.

For this theater which lasted a few days, Biancolelli composed several comedies around the character of Harlequin, including Harlequin, A Gentleman by Chance (for the Saint Lawrence Fair in 1708), Harlequin Atys (for that of Saint Germain in 1710) and Harlequin a Girl In Spite of Himself, played at the Saint Lawrence Fair on July 22nd, 1713. The three act piece “in vaudevilles” dramaticized the love between Leander and Colombine, the latter jealously protected by the doctor who was keeping her for himself. After many comical misunderstandings and thanks to Harlequin’s intervention, the lovers succeeded in uniting with each other.

It is likely that the final scene (Act III, scene 5) of this comedy inspired Watteau for this charming little picture. Having passed from one private collection to another, and been over varnished and awkwardly restored in the 19th century, this panel escaped the eyes of critics who considered it lost since the mid 18th century. With its pendant, Beauty, Don’t Listen to Anything (Belle n’écoutez rien), whose location remains unknown, it was only known through the engraving by Charles-Nicolas Cochin and mentioned starting in 1726 in the inventory of Pierre Sirois, Watteau’s first merchant and friend.

The Subject
Nonetheless, it has to be noted that the subject of Beauty, Don’t Listen to Anything does not seem to correspond to any moment in Harlequin Girl In Spite of Himself. It could thus very easily refer to another show, because not only did Biancolelli’s creations for the Fair reproduced similar situations, but they also depended on the Italian actors actually present in Paris, each one being accustomed to play a specific role. In fact, in his Notes manuscrites, Pierre-Jean Mariette gave a completely different description of the two pendants: “two subjects of Scenes from the Italian Theater, one depicting Harlequin in love, the other the Doctor finding his daughter in a tête-à-tête with her lover.” Finally, the quatrains which figure under Cochin’s engraving do not at all refer to the 1713 play. The engraving, which is in the same direction as the picture, bears a verse which describes the already explicit scene in fairly broad terms:

(Pour garder l’honneur d’une belle
Veillez et la nuit et le jour,
Contre les pièges de l’Amour
C’est trop peu de Pierrot pour faire sentinelle.

“To protect a beauty’s honor,
Watch out night and day
For the traps set by Cupid
It’s not enough for Pierrot to stand guard.”

The Protagonists
In fact, the protagonists are easily recognized based on their attire: Harlequin with his black mask and checked costume; Pierrot entirely in white; the Doctor all in black; and the amorous couple clothed in “Spanish” style, pink for Columbine and ochre for Leander or Mezzetin - another popular “mask” of the commedia dell’ arte who usually wore a striped costume. Knowing the usual use of each character, it is easy to reconstitute the comic situations. In Beauty, Don’t Listen to Anything, a horrified Mezzetin surprises the innocent Columbine captivated by Harlequin’s chatter under Pierrot’s amused gaze. In our panel, the Doctor is manifestly confused at finding Columbine beside his rival Leander/Mezzetin. In the background, Pierrot stands impassively with an uneasy Harlequin behind his back. To the left, the basket might hold his female disguise, as well as some piece of Columbine’s sewing which she would have abandoned in order to carry on with her lover.

Relationship to Gillot
This blatant narration, as well as the organization of space on what is really a theater’s stage with forestage, side wings, and decor painted on canvas in guise of a background, makes our picture comparable to the work of Claude Gillot (1673-1722). According to Mariette, Watteau, as Gillot’s student between about 1705 and 1709, “took much from his manner:”

“One could say that right from the beginning, he invented and drew in Gillot’s taste, as he treated practically the same subjects; but it must be said that, even if he had a taste for rural festivities, theater subjects, and modern clothes, in imitation of his master, it is no less true that subsequently, he handled them in his very own style, and that nature, which he had always adored, made him see them.”

Harlequin’s Pose
Veritable interpreter of Biancolelli’s and Gherardi’s Italian Comedy, Gillot knew how to capture the essence of the scene, as well as the very particular poses of the comedians, and notably Biancolelli’s/Harlequin’s grotesque swaying or dancing hip motion. In his drawing of Harlequin and Goliath, dating to the years 1705-1710 (Louvre Museum, inv. 26762), the exaggerated inclination forward of the comedian’s bust and the position of his legs are the same as in our painting. As for the left arm forming a strange projecting angle, it appears in The Portrait of Harlequin as Prosecutor (private collection), as well as in Huquier’s engraving “after Gillot,” entitled Harlequin Emperor in the Moon, which depicts the “scene of the farmer of Domfront” from the show mounted in September 1707 at the Saint-Lawrence Fair.

Huquier’s engraving made Harlequin’s pose famous with the bust leaning forward, left hand on his hip, and the right brought up to his tricorn in a gesture that could be a salute, surprise, or dissimulation. This engraving reproduces in reverse the picture conserved in Nantes whose attribution to Gillot or Watteau continues to be disputed. If the static composition massed in the foreground unquestionably comes from Gillot, the figures carry the mark of Watteau, most particularly the figures of Mezzetin and Harlequin. Curiously, the same controversy concerns another picture (location unknown) which features the Italian Comedians, The Departure of the Italian Artists. Engraved as “after Watteau,” the accentuated expressions of the figures are surprisingly in the spirit of Gillot.

Dating our Panel
It is during this period of training-friendship-collaboration between Watteau and Gillot that we must place our panel, which would make it one of the artist’s first known works. Nevertheless, while Gillot’s influence is present – written in 1732, the catalogue for the Countess of Verrue’s sale, the pendants’ former owner, hesitates between the two artists, - Watteau’s own style is much more obvious here than in Harlequin Emperor of the Moon which is unquestionably earlier. The composition is certainly very theatrical, but the figures fit better into the setting than in Gillot’s works. Anticipating Watteau’s future production, our little panel is a cabinet picture which, in a minimum of space, gives the illusion of depth and skillfully plays with the “emptiness” of the floor, walls, and sky. Between the Doctor, in the right foreground, and Harlequin, in the rear left, the actors form a diagonal, while the light focuses in the center on Columbine’s milky flesh tones.

The figures’ poses are equally more natural, yet very studied: the temptation is great to attribute the disarticulated posture so characteristic of Harlequin to Watteau before it was subsequently reproduced by Nicolas Lancret, Pierre Subleyras, and Hubert Robert. Here, the Doctor tries out a very similar pose in a surprising play of mirror imagery.

Technique and Visual Language in our Painting
No preparatory drawing is known for our panel, but the brown precise line that describes the protagonists is the same as in the drawings the artist did from nature to capture poses, hand gestures, or the inclination of heads. The graceful lovers seated on the step already belong to Watteau’s fêtes galantes and prove to be much superior to the actors in the pendant, Beauty, Don’t Listen to Anything. At the same time, as opposed to Gillot’s insistant narration, Watteau’s language makes the most of silences and melancholy.

This harmony and elegance of the whole are served by a pictorial technique quite different from Gillot’s. The artist’s brushstroke is fluid and unctuous, minimalist in clothing or facial details, and more nervous in architecture and vegetation. He works everything in glazes, playing on transparencies and colored superpositions, multiplying subtle nuances, as in the pink satin which escapes from the basket or on the young man’s shoes embellished with bows. The palette is luminous, yet delicate with dominant burned ochres heightened with Venetian red, vermilion, Naples yellow, cobalt blue, and bluish grays. Watteau’s original genius is already there, ten years before the Fêtes Vénitiennes and the Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera.

We would like to thank Mr. Alan Wintermute and Martin Eidelberg for having confirmed the attribution after examining our work. The painting will be included in the artist’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné being prepared by Mr. Alan Wintermute and in the on-line Watteau catalogue, A Watteau Abecedario by Mr. Martin Eidelberg (

Bibliography of the Work (As Location Unknown and Known by the Engraving)
Pierre Jean MARIETTE, Notes Manuscrites sur les Peintres et Graveurs, vol. IX, fol. 191, 12 (manuscript, Paris, BnF).
Anne-Claude-Philippe, comte de CAYLUS, Abrégé de la Vie de Watteau, Paris 1735.
Edmond and Jules de GONCOURT, L’Art au XVIIIème siècle, Paris 1880, vol. I, p. 56.
Edmond de GONCOURT, L’œuvre peint, dessiné et gravé d’Antoine Watteau, Paris, 1875, cat. 77, p. 74.
John W. MOLLETT, Watteau, London, 1883, cat. 77, p. 63.
E. H. ZIMMERMANN, Watteau, Klassiker der Kunst, Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1912, p. 13.
Émile DACIER, Jacques HEROLD, Albert VUAFLART, Jean de Julienne et les graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1921-1929, vol. III, pp. 40-41, no 83 et passim.
Louis REAU, “Watteau,” L. Dimier, Les Peintres Français du XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1928, p. 35, 183, cat. 63.
Hélène ADHEMAR, Watteau, sa vie, son œuvre, Paris 1950.
Dora PANOFSKY, “Gilles or Pierrot ? Iconographic Notes on Watteau,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, May-June, 1952, CLXII, pp. 319-340.
Jacques MATHEY, Antoine Watteau, Peintures réapparues inconnues ou négligées par les historiens, Paris, 1959, pp. 26, 66.
Marianne ROLAND MICHEL, “Notes on a Painting by Hubert Robert formerly attributed to Watteau,” The Burlington Magazine, vol. 102, no 692, November 1960, p. ii.
A. P. de MIRIMONDE, “Les sujets musicaux chez Antoine Watteau,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts, November 1961, LVIII, pp. 249-288.
G. MACCHIA and E. C. MONTAGNI, L’Opera completa di Watteau, Milan, 1968, cat. 15, p. 100.
Ettore CAMESASCA and Pierre ROSENBERG, Tout l’œuvre peint de Watteau, Paris, 1970, cat. 15, p. 20.
Jean FERRE, Watteau, Madrid, 1972, vol. I, pp. 33, 114, 115 et passim.
Y. BOERLIN-BRODBECK, Antoine Watteau und das Theater, Basel, 1973, pp. 90, 123, 124, 135 et passim.
Martin EIDELBERG, “Watteau and Gillot : An additional Point of Contact,” The Burlington Magazine, September 1974, CXVI, p. 536.
Jean CAILLEUX, “Un étrange monuent et autres études sur Watteau,” Art et Curiosité, special no. March-April 1975, pp. 85-88; English version: “A Strange Monument and other Watteau Studies,” Burlington Magazine, April 1975, CXVII, no. 865, p. 248, n. 35.
C. SEERVELD, “Telltale Statues in Watteau’s Painting,” Eighteenth Century Studies, 1980-1981, XIV, no 2, pp. 151-180.
Marianne ROLAND MICHEL and Daniel RABREAU, Les Arts du Théâtre de Watteau à Fragonard, exh. cat. Bordeaux, Galerie des Beaux-Arts, 1980, pp. 102, 110, 183.
Marianne ROLAND MICHEL, Watteau. Un artiste au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, 1984, pp. 176-177, 212, 291, pl. 173.
Donald POSNER, Antoine Watteau, London, 1984, pp. 50, 54, fig. 45, note 26.
Günther HANSEN, Formen der Commedia dell’Arte in Deutschland, Emsdetten, 1984, p. 281.
Margaret MORGAN GRASSELLI and Pierre ROSENBERG, Watteau 1684-1721, exh. cat. Washington, Paris, Berlin, 1984, pp. 510, 516, 527, fig. 90.
François MOUREAU and Margaret MORGAN GRASSELLI (dir.), Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). The Painter, his Age and his Legend, Paris, Geneva, 1987, pp. 55-56, 68, 145, 204-206, 208, 210-211, 236.
Huguette COURTEAUX-ENAULT, Une œuvre retrouvée de Watteau: Commedia dell’arte ? ou la métamorphose d’un sol, thesis, University of Paris I, 1990.
François MOUREAU, De Gherardi à Watteau, présence d’Arlequin sous Louis XIV, Paris, 1992, pp. 96, 108, 122, 127.
Pierre ROSENBERG and Louis-Antoine PRAT, Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). Catalogue raisonné des dessins, Venice, 1996, vol. I, p. 144, fig. 92b; vol. III, under cat. R 457, R 529, p. 1507.
François MOUREAU, "Claude Gillot et l’univers du théâtre,’ Claude Gillot (1673-1722), Comédies, sabbats et autres sujets bizarres, exh. cat. Langres, Museum of Art and History, 1999, p. 92, n. 5.
Guillaume GLORIEUX, À l’Enseigne de Gersaint, Edmé-François Gersaint, Marchand d’Art sur le Pont Notre-Dame (1694-1758), Paris, 2002, p. 215.
Martin EIDELBERG, Watteau et la fête galante, exh. cat. Valenciennes, Museum of Fine Arts, 2004, p. 84, fig. 1.2.
Christian MICHEL, Le Célèbre Watteau, Geneva, 2008, pp. 81, 236-237, fig. 46.
Guillaume GLORIEUX, Watteau, Paris, 2011, pp. 106-107, fig. 76.
Isabelle TISSEROT, “Engraving Watteau in the Eighteenth Century: Order and Display in the Recueil Jullienne,” Getty Research Journal, 2011, no 3, p. 50.
F. RAYMOND (dir.), Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) : La Leçon de Musique, exh. cat. Brussels, Palace of Fine Arts, 2013, pp. 92-93, sous cat. 33.
L. SCHARIFZADEH, Claude Gillot : Scène de la Comédie Italienne : un nouveau point de contact avec Watteau, exh. cat. Paris, 2013, pp. 31-32, fig. 29, 30, 32.

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