Two New Watteau Drawings

© Martin Eidelberg and Axel Moulinier

Created October 2020


After the publication of Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat’s monumental, three-volume catalogue of Antoine Watteau’s drawing in 1996, it seemed as though few new works would ever appear. But with the passage of time, little by little, small discoveries here and there have proven that the world of Watteau’s drawings is an expanding universe. The Watteau discoveries presented in this study assure us that not only the number of works will continue to increase but also they will enrich our understanding of this great draftsman’s oeuvre.

Fig 5
    1. Antoine Watteau, Four Studies of Soldiers, red chalk, 13 x 24 cm (combined). Private American collection.

The first of the drawings involves the rediscovery of two sheets of studies of soldiers that were known half a century ago but have not been seen since (fig. 1). These old friends are closely related, each of the same size and each showing a pair of soldiers. They were last seen and recorded by Sir Karl T. Parker and Jacques Mathey in the 1950s.1 At that time they were in the Parisian collection of  Mme. L. du C. After a half century, the two sheets recently came to light again, were bought by the Parisian dealer Nicolas Schwed, and now are in an important American private collection. Rosenberg and Prat, who knew the drawings only through old photographs, raised the issue of whether the two pages might have originally been together as one sheet.2 Wile repeated the idea that the two pages were probably one sheet.3

The recent demounting and restauration of these two drawings establishes that, indeed, the four soldiers had originally been on the same sheet of paper. There are small passages where the lines from one page continue to the other, especially the shoe on the man left of center and the jacket of the man standing right of center. Their division into two separate sheets stems from at least the middle of the nineteenth century when they were in the collection of A. Mouriau, as is demonstrated by the collector’s mark on each of the sheets in the lower left corner: “COLLN MOURIAU.”4 Had they then been a single sheet there would have been no need to duplicate mark. Curiously, the 1858 catalogue of Mouriau’s collection described them and an additional, now lost drawing as “Une feuille contenant trois dessins. Etudes de figures d'hommes très spirituellement faites à la sanguine.” The implication is that the third drawing contained additional studies of soldiers, but it must have been separated and lost by the time Parker and Mathey saw the two that remained.5

Fig 5
    2. Antoine Watteau, Studies of a Cat, red chalk, 13 x 24 cm (combined). Private American collection.


The revelation is what was uncovered on the reverse sides of the two surviving drawings. The sheets must have been pasted down at some point after the 1858 sale, because until then the versos were still visible. At some later point they must have been secured to their mount because the versos were not mentioned by Parker and Mathey. They were also passed over in silence by Rosenberg and Prat, who had no firsthand knowledge of them. Surprisingly, had someone consulted the 1858 Mouriau sale catalogue, they would have found a brief citation of what was on the overside of these sheets: “Au verso quelques têtes de chats.” Indeed, now that the drawings have been demounted, Watteau’s five charming heads of cats are once again visible (fig. 2). Like Watteau’s studies of men and women, his studies of these charming felines shows a comparable tenderness and nuance of movement. With great sensitivity, he captured the different shifts of the cat’s head and body. Drawn in red chalk and arranged at an angle, the continuity of this unusual diagonal structure across the whole of the sheet confirms that originally these now separated parts had originally formed one whole. The way that the cats extend beyond the page at the top confirms that the upper portion was cut.

Fig 5
    3. Watteau, Sheet of Studies of Two Men and Cats, red chalk, 18.1 x 24 cm. Bayonne, Musée Bonnat.

Although an unusual subject for Watteau, there are other Watteau drawings of cats with which these can be favorably compared. A good example is a handsome drawing in the Musée Bonnat in Bayonne (fig. 3).6 Here, sketches of a man are surrounded by four studies of a cat, a cat so similar to the ones we have discovered that it may even be the very same cat. Although Watteau frequently made red chalk studies of dogs and often included these canines in his paintings, he drew fewer studies of cats and rarely painted them. Cats do appear in Pour garder l’honneur d’une belle and L’Occupation selon l’âge, but  theseare rare exceptions and, alas, do not correspond to our newly discovered drawing.7

Fig 5
    4. Antoine Watteau after Domenico Campagnola, Mountainous Landscape, red chalk counterproof, 21.8 x 32.6 cm.  Private American collection.

The second new drawing that we would like to introduce, also in the same American collection, is Watteau’s copy after one of Campagnola’s landscape compositions (fig. 4). Actually, it is a counterproof of a Watteau red chalk drawing that is otherwise unknown. This counterproof can be traced to the early twentieth-century collection of Arman Weber (1844-1918), an artist and man of letters who lived in Vervier, Belgium.8 Its history from World War I to the present cannot be charted. It remained unknown to Watteau scholars until its recent appearance at a Berlin auction.9

Fig 2 Fig 3
    5. Domenico Campagnola, Mountainous Landscape, bistre ink and pen, 19.3 x 31.7 cm. Capetown, South Africa, the National Gallery.


6. Original direction of the Watteau drawing after Campagnola seen in fig. 4.

As is well recognized, Watteau’s close friend and patron, Pierre Crozat, had an immense number of Venetian landscape drawings, many of them ascribed to Titian but now given to Campagnola. Watteau was evidently enamored of them and scrupulously copied his models.10 At present there are some eighteen drawings of this type.11 Crozat’s Venetian drawings were generous in scale and Watteau employed correspondingly large sheets, a format otherwise rare among his surviving drawings. Although there was a difference in medium—the Venetian drawings were executed in pen and ink, Watteau’s copies were in red chalk—nonetheless Watteau successfully imitated every stroke of Campagnola’s pen. That is not only a general truism but it can be demonstrated in the instance of our new drawing because the original Venetian model, a pen and ink Campagnola landscape, has survived and is now in the National Gallery of South Africa, Capetown (fig. 5). Once we overcome the reversal of the image resulting from it being a counterproof (fig. 6), it is evident that every hill and mountain peak, every building in the new Watteau drawing corresponds to the Campagnola model.

Fig 5
    7. Here attributed to Jean-Baptiste Pater after Watteau, Mountainous Landscape, red chalk, 18.1 x 30.1 cm. Whereabouts unknown.


The discovery of this drawing not only enlarges the corpus of Watteau’s Venetian landscape studies but also it raises interesting problems.12 The first is its relation to another rendering of the same landscape—a drawing that formerly was in the collection of Emile Wolf of New York (fig. 7). The ex-Wolf drawing corresponds in direction to the Campagnola and is, of course, opposite the counterproof. When it was exhibited in 1980, the Wolf drawing was attributed to Watteau, an ascription subsequently and rightly rejected by Rosenberg and Prat.13 The ex-Wolf drawing has a softness and fluidity of line that contrasts with the tighter, controlled hachures present in Watteau’s rendering.14 These qualities point to a possible attribution to Jean-Baptiste Pater, Watteau’s closest disciples. A question that arises is whether Pater (or whoever the artist was) copied the Campagnola drawing directly or did he copy Watteau’s version? It is remarkable that there are no readily discernable differences between the three versions. One of the curious things is that although Pater was one of Watteau’s chief pupils, the relationship between the two men has essentially gone unstudied.

Fig 5
    8. Circle of Watteau, Les Délassements champêtres, oil on canvas, 56.7 x 71.4 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

An equally intriguing question is the relationship between this new Watteau landscape and two, almost identical paintings attributed to the circle of Watteau. One of them (fig. 8) can be traced back to the late eighteenth century, to  a 1775 Paris sale where it was given to Watteau.15 When it resurfaced in the mid-nineteenth century, it was still listed under Watteau’s name and had acquired the title, Les Délassements champêtres. That picture, which around 1900 was in the collection of Martin Schubart of Munich, has appeared at auction several times since then: in Amsterdam in 1990, in Lille in 1993, and in Paris in 2002. In these instances, it has figured under the name of Watteau or his circle.. The second painting is in  the Louvre’s collection but has been hanging in the French embassy in Sofia, Bulgaria, since the 1940s.16 Both pictures feature a guitarist standing on the crest of a high hill, strumming his guitar, a second man playing a flute, and a woman who fans herself while looking up at the guitarist—all of them repeating the trio from Watteau’s Le Lorgneur.

Although most Watteau scholars have brushed off these painting as merely anonymous copies or variants after Le Lorgneur, they have a more complex relationship to Watteau’s oeuvre. The ex-Schubart version of Les Délassements champêtres also includes a child in the foreground and small figures on the far side of the hill. These secondary figures are also firmly rooted in Watteau’s art. The young girl who reaches out to her mother is based on a drawing in the Rijksmuseum, a drawing that Watteau did not employ in any other painting, which suggests that the painter had direct access to Watteau’s drawings17

Equally important and very germane to our study, is the extensive landscape that fills the background of these two paintings and which, judging from photographs, appears to be the same in each. The very same Venetian-inspired buildings, waterfall and mill, bridges, pilings in the river—all these elements correspond to those in the newly-discovered Watteau counterproof but, of course, are in the opposite direction. We already had examples of Watteau using his drawings after Campagnola to create the landscapes of two of his fêtes galantes: La Leçon d’amour in Stockholm and Amusements champêtres in a private collection. Additional hints of this practice are found in other fêtes galantes where Venetian-style buildings peer out among the distant foliage. That Les Délassements champêtres repeats the design of the Campagnola landscape in Capetown brings these enigmatic paintings even closer into Watteau’s sphere. Did Watteau have a hand in the design and execution of these two versions of Les Délassements champêtres, or was this entrusted to an assistant? That question is a Pandora’s box.

As simple as the new Watteau landscape drawing appears, like its maker, it hides unexpected, layers beneath. New revelations create still further questions. The year 2021 marks the three-hundredth anniversary of Watteau’s death and still he remains aloof, very much a mystery.




1 Karl T. Parker and Jacques Mathey, Antoine Watteau, Catalogue complet de son oeuvre dessiné, 2 vols.(Paris: 1960), cat. 948, 950.

2 Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat, Antoine Watteau, Catalogue raisonné des dessins, 3 vols. (Milan: 1996), 1: cat. 57, 58.

3 Aaron Wile, Watteau’s Soldiers, Scenes of Military Life in Eighteenth-Century France, exh. cat.(New York and London: Frick Art Collection, 2016), p. 81, figs. 7, 8.

4 See L. 1829 in ( 1814.) A. Mouriau was a military captain formerly in the service of the Belgian royal household; see Stijn Alsteens (ed.), Raphael to Renoir: Drawings from the Collection of Jean Bonna (New York).

5 The lost third drawing was slightly taller, measuring 15.8 x 13 cm.

6 Rosenberg and Prat, Antoine Watteau, Catalogue raisonné des dessins, 1: cat. 315.

7  We are intentionally excluding the enraged cat in Chat malade. But we would be remiss if we did not mention the gouache studies of cats that were in the collection of Charles Antoine Coypel: his sale, Paris, 1753, lot 82: “Des Etudes de Têtes de Chat, peinte d’après nature, dans la plus grande vérité, par Wateau.”

8  Weber’s collector’s mark appears prominently at the lower left of the sheet. See

9 Berlin, Bassenge Auktionen, June 5, 2020, lot 6654.

10 As can be judged by the 1741 auction catalogue of Crozat’s collection, the number of Venetian landscape drawings he owned was enormous. Of his 46 drawings attributed to Giorgione, many were said to be landscapes. Of the 79 drawings given to Titian, many were landscapes. Most astounding of all were the 133 by Campagnola.

11 Rosenberg and Prat, Antoine Watteau, Catalogue raisonné des dessins, 1: cat. 252, 254-60, 341-44; 2:  430-34. For another Watteau drawing after Campagnola see David Pullins, “A New Watteau Drawing after an Italian Landscape Discovered in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Paris,” Master Drawings, 54 (2016), 63-66.

12 Some of these issues were first addressed in Martin Eidelberg, Rêveries italiennes, Watteau et les paysagistes français au XVIII e siècle (Ghent: 2015), 96-103.

13  French Drawings from a Private Collection: Louis XIII to Louis XVI, ed. Konrad Oberhuber, exh. cat. (Cambridge, MA: Fogg Art Museum, 1980), cat. 24. See also Rosenberg and Prat, Antoine Watteau, Catalogue de son oeuvre dessiné, 3: cat. R 408.

14  The same difference in draftsmanship can be seen in a comparison of Watteau’s drawing of a farm building in the Porcherons and Pater’s copy of it. See Rosenberg and Prat, Antoine Watteau, Catalogue de son oeuvre dessiné, 1: cat. 235 (Watteau’s original study) and 2: R 575 (the version by Pater). One of the curious things is that although Pater was one of Watteau’s chief pupils, the relationship between the two men has essentially gone unstudied.

15  Sale, Paris, November 14, 1775, lot 52. For more about this painting, see the forthcoming entry in: Delassements_champetres.htm.

16 Louvre inv. RF 3803.

17  Rosenberg and Prat, Antoine Watteau, catalogue raisonné des dessins, 2: cat. 455. Rosenberg and Prat reject the idea that the study of this girl was used for Le Lorgneur, apparently unaware that the Schubart painting was often designated by that title.