Jean Jacques Spoede, Gillot’s Forgotten Assistant and Watteau’s Special Friend

© Martin Eidelberg

Created December 2020


The name of Jean Jacques Spoede (c. 1680-1757) does not appear in most histories of French art, even though he was a friend of Watteau’s and later in his career rose in prominence to become director of the Académie de Saint Luc in Paris. If anything, Spoede had an unfavorable reputation in his day. Mariette, for example, described him as a “peintre tout à fait mediocre.”1 Most scholars writing about Watteau have mentioned Spoede but only in passing. Except for occasional references to the still life paintings and mythological subjects that he exhibited while alive, or that could be found in private collections, there was no serious attempt to define his oeuvre. The situation has greatly changed, especially in the last twenty-five years. Today the catalogue of Spoede’s extant paintings and drawings has considerably expanded. Yet, despite this growth in numbers, we know very little about this Flemish-born artist, especially in his first years in Paris. On a previous occasion I proposed that there was a link between his work and that of Claude Gillot and Antoine Watteau. Those conclusions can now be strengthened by the discovery of a large set of Spoede drawings in the Bibliothèque nationale that clarifies the relation of the three men.2


1. Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actress Playing Castanets, red chalk, 27.3 x 17.1  cm. Paris, Musée Carnavalet. 2. Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actor with His Hands Folded Together, red chalk, 29.5 x 21 cm. Whereabouts unknown. 3. Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actor Costumed as Folly, 27.5 x 21 cm. Whereabouts unknown.


The focus of this essay is an extensive group of more than forty red chalk drawings of commedia dell’arte figures. Their attribution has been a matter of much scholarly debate. By 1959 Karl T. Parker and Jacques Mathey had assembled eight of them, some of which had previously been attributed to Gillot, and some to Watteau, but Parker and Mathey proposed giving all of them to Watteau (figs. 1-3, 24, 25, 34, 45, 47).3 Although coming from different sources, all have  the same format of a single actor set against the blank page, many with cast shadows on the ground. They are on approximately the same sized sheets, approximately 27 cm in height but with the caveat that many have been trimmed, especially at the top of the sheet. Some have wider lateral margins than others, but this again may be the result of trimming.

    4. Jean Jacque Spoede, An Actress Crying, red chalk, 27.5 x 18 cm. New York, author’s collection.

5. Jean Jacques Spoede,  A Merchant from Danzig, red chalk, 24 x 15.2 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

6. Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actor Pointing Downwards, red chalk, 27 x 17.5 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

After Parker and Mathey’s initial publication, the number of drawings slowly increased. Some appeared at auction or in the trade, or were recuperated from old sale catalogues. By 1987 there were at least seventeen and a decade later the total was reckoned at twenty.4 Within the group are several clusters with common provenance, suggesting that at some point  the drawings were divided into small subsets.5 By 1997 there were twenty.

The corpus has increased still further in recent years, and these additions have clarified our understanding of the series. Two important drawings, possibly counterproofs, emerged in 1998 at an otherwise inauspicious auction in Pont-Audemer, as will be discussed shortly (figs. 18, 19).6


7.  Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actor Dressed as a Soldier, red chalk counterproof, 14.5 x 10 cm. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des arts graphiques.

8. Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actress, red chalk counterproof, 14.6 x 10 cm. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des arts graphiques.


Axel Moulinier recently signaled two drawings from our cycle that were in the now-dismembered Groult album in the Louvre (fig. 7, 8).7 Although similar in format to the ones that are known, they are weak counterproofs and are smaller than the others in this series, measuring just 14.5 x 10 cm. Moreover, the figures do not fill up the page as fully. One can only speculate whether they were part of a second, smaller set of drawings or whether they belong to the larger series we are considering here.


9. Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actor Costumed as an Ancient Priest, red chalk, 27.5 x 18.1 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

10. Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actress Seen from Behind, red chalk, 27 x 18 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

11. Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actor Pointing Downward, red chalk, 27.5 x 18 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

12. Jean Jacques Spoede, Harlequin Gesticulating, red chalk, 27.2 x 18.1 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

13. Jean Jacques Spoede, Harlequin Counting on His Fingers, red chalk, 27.5 x 18 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

14. Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actor Pointing Upward, red chalk, 27.5 x 18 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.


Most important—truly a keystone for this study—is a bound album containing thirteen more drawings from our series, previously hidden away in the Bibliothèque nationale and discovered by Jennifer Tonkovich (figs. 9-14, 30, 42, 46, 48, 53, 58, 68-69).8 Although formerly attributed to Gillot and then re-classified as anonymous, these drawings clearly belong to the cycle under discussion. All thirteen are red chalk studies of actors in full theatrical costume, each on a separate page, all in accord with the measurements of the main body of large sheets, averaging 27.5 x 18 cm. This brings the total of single-figured sheets to almost thirty five, especially if we include the two smaller sheets from the Groult album.

15. Anonymous French artist, Twelve Studies of Theatrical Characters after Spoede, red chalk, 17 x 22.3 cm. Whereabouts unknown.


While this series of theatrical figures has grown to be sizable, originally the set was still larger. Additional drawings that have not survived are recorded on a sheet of twelve studies formerly with the Galerie Cailleux in Paris (fig. 15).9 Despite Roland Michel’s proposed attribution of this page to Pierre Antoine Quillard, one of Watteau’s important satellites, the style of the drawing is far removed from Quillard’s graphism. Unlike the incisive, often angular traits of Quillard’s figures, these men and women, especially those more carefully drawn, have the same types of squared heads and awkward profile views seen in the thirty-four other studies under consideration. In attributing this sheet to Quillard, Roland Michel was perhaps misled by the arrangement of the individual figures in two horizontal rows, a formula that Quillard employed for many of his copies after Watteau. This, however, was not an uncommon structuring device, and was used by Gillot, Watteau, and others.

16. Jean Jacques Spoede, Actress Standing Akimbo, red chalk, 27.5 x 18.5 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

17. Jean Jacques Spoede, Actress with a Basket of Flowers, red chalk, 27.5 x 18.2  cm. New York, collection of the author.

Key to establishing the authorship of the figures on the ex-Cailleux drawing, two of them repeat characters found in the Spoede drawings under consideration. The leftmost figure in the top row, a woman standing in profile, her arms akimbo, closely copies a Spoede drawing (fig. 16). Likewise, the woman second from the right in the top row, holding a basket of flowers, copies another of the actresses in Spoede’s drawings (fig. 17). If these two figures can be traced to our cycle of Spoede drawings, it follows that the remaining ten figures in the ex-Cailleux drawing were also based on now-lost Spoede drawings from this set. This brings the total number of studies in the original series to forty-four characters, a truly sizable number.

What we did not know until 1998 was who was responsible for all these drawings. When Parker and Mathey first published the series, they rejected the previous association of some of them with Gillot and instead assigned them all to Watteau. Sutton rightly questioned this reattribution. I too proposed that these drawings were closer in style to Gillot, subsequently revising this attribution downward to Gillot or a member of his shop. Still other contrary opinions were voiced by various scholars. Roland Michel argued that the series should be given back to Watteau.10 So too, Margaret Morgan Grasselli preferred to retain the attribution to Watteau, and sought to position them very early in his career, possibly before he studied with Gillot.11 More recently, Rosenberg and Prat rejected the attribution to Watteau but did not offer an alternative name.12

18. Jean Jacque Spoede, English Woman, red chalk (counterproof?), 22.5 x 17 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

19. Jean Jacque Spoede, Burgundian Woman, red chalk (counterproof?), 23 x 16.3 cm. Whereabouts unknown.


The issue of authorship was resolved in 1998 when the two previously mentioned drawings came up at auction in Pont-Audemer (figs. 18-19). Both sheets are of the same general size as those we have been considering, and their formula of a single figure set against the white of the page establishes their place within our cycle. The images are not of traditional theatrical costumes; both depict women dressed  in evidently older styles of the sixteenth century. Thus they correspond to other drawings in this set showing male characters wearing century-old fashions (figs. 5, 34). The important thing about these drawings is that they are signed. One is marked “Spoede” and the other bears not only the author’s signature but also the date 1730. These signatures were probably added decades after they were drawn, but there is no reason to doubt their genuine nature. While it is not uncommon for dealers and collectors to upgrade anonymous drawings by adding spurious names in the hope of increasing their worth, this would not be the case here. After all, Spoede’s name would add little commercial value.

Spoede’s intent in creating this extensive series of drawings remains obscure. Were they planned in preparation for a large set of prints illustrating French theatrical costumes (in the manner of François Joullain's engravings after Gillot), was he designing costumes to be used in the theater, or was Spoede creating without any real purpose? The answer is not at hand. The same issue of function can be raised in regard to Gillot’s drawings, many of which were executed in sets of uniform size and standardized formats—as four single figures on a page or as actors presenting specific plays. Posing these questions about Spoede’s and Gilllot’s drawings may be all that we can do for the present.



Beyond constituting a sizable addition to his oeuvre, these Spoede drawings reveal a crucial aspect of his artistic formation. They lead to an inescapable conclusion: he was a pupil or assistant of Claude Gillot. As I stressed before, many of his drawings prove to be copies after inventions by Gillot. Now, armed with the additional Spoede drawings that have been uncovered, we have a greater body of evidence that demonstrate Spoede’s indebtedness to Gillot. The inescapable conclusion is that he must have worked in Gillot’s atelier.

20. Claude Gillot, Four Actors, pen and ink, 15.2 x 19 cm. Whereabouts unknown.  

21. Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actor Dressed as a Merchant of Quack Potions, red chalk, 26.8 x 18.6 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

22. Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actor Dressed as Folly, red chalk, 27.5 x 18 cm. Whereabouts unknown.


An example of the close relationship between Gillot’s and Spoede’s drawings is a comparison between a Gillot sheet with four studies of actors (fig. 20) and two of Spoede’s drawings from our series: one of a comic merchant of quack potions and another of an actor wearing a cockscomb hat (figs. 21-22). As can be readily seen, the figures at the far left and far right of Gillot’s sheet were the models that Spoede copied, drawing them with little variation save that Spoede gave the figures greater corporeality, rounding their torsos and faces, making them more jolly.13

23. Claude Gillot, Four Theatrical Characters, ink over traces of chalk, 15.5 x 19.6 cm. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund.

24.  Jean Jacques Spoede, Actor with a Staff, red chalk, 27.5 x 18.5 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

25. Jean Jacques Spoede, Actor with a Cape over His Shoulder, red chalk, 27.5 x 18.5 cm. Whereabouts unknown.


Likewise, a Gillot pen and ink drawing in the Metropolitan Museum (fig. 23) served for two of Spoede’s characters. Gillot’s figure of a standing Pierrot at the far left of the sheet, hat in hand, was the basis of Spoede’s more solid actor (fig. 24). Similarly the adjacent figure on Gillot’s sheet, a man with a cape over his right shoulder, turning his head to look over that shoulder, was adopted by Spoede with little change (fig. 25). Although Gillot’s characters were sketchily rendered in pen and ink, with much vivacity as Gillot’s sketches are wont to have, Spoede gave his humorous actors a more pronounced sense of form: even the actor’s cape has a greater sense of volume and hangs more heavily.

26. Claude Gillot, Studies of a Jester and an Actress, pen and ink, 13 x 9.2 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

27. Jean Jacques Spoede, A Jester with a Tambourine, red chalk, 18.5 x 29.5 cm. Whereabouts unknown.


Spoede profited from another Gillot study in pen and ink (fig. 26), probably cut from a larger sheet.14 Spoede closely copied Gillot’s figure of an actor with a tambourine, but changed the tilt of the head and positioned the tambourine farther out from the body (fig. 27). As generally occurs, Spoede’s figure is wider and more corpulent.

28. Claude Gillot, Four Studies of Actors, pen and ink, 15 x 19 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

29. Jean Jacques Spoede, Comedian Dressed as a Soldier, red chalk counterproof, 14.6 x 10 cm. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des arts graphiques.

Similarly, Spoede profited from the other side of a Gillot sheet considered earlier (figs. 20, 28). He borrowed the comedian, perhaps a Pierrot, dressed as a soldier, sheepishly saluting or doffing his hat for one of the drawings formerly in the Groult album (fig. 29).15 Gillot’s rendering is quick and sketchy, whereas Spoede filled out some of the details of the military costume, again making the figure more solid.

 30. Jean Jacques Spoede, An Actor Pointing Upward, red chalk, 27 x 18 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

31. Claude Gillot, Three Commedia dell’arte Actors, graphite, pen and ink, 16.7 x 19.6 cm. Whereabouts unknown.


One of the Spoede drawings in the newly unearthed Bibliothèque nationale album, showing an actor pointing upward and sideways in a most awkward way (fig. 30), can be traced to a Gillot drawing that recently was on the auction market (fig.31).16 While Gillot’s study is freely drawn in pen and ink, and fairly short on details, Spoede’s rendering is highly resolved. The diamond-shaped patches of cloth around the comedian’s thigh in Spoede’s drawing, for example, makes sense out of Gillot’s quick diagonal slashes. The actor in Gillot's drawing wears a tight-fitting cap but in Spoede's study, it is a wide-brimmed hat. Perhaps Spoede took his cue from the hat worn by the adjacent actor in Gillot’s drawing.

32. Jean Jacques Spoede, Harlequin Counting on his Fingers, red chalk, 27.5 x 18 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

33. Anonymous copy after Claude Gillot, Three Studies of Harlequin, red chalk on tracing paper, 11.9 x 13.6 cm. Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Art Museum, bequest of Margaret Mower for the Elsa Durand Mower Collection.


A final Spoede drawing to be considered in these comparisons comes from the Bibliothèque nationale album, showing Harlequin in his customary, contorted posture, counting on his fingers (fig. 32). This figure reflects a Gillot drawing that is no longer extant, but survives in a tracing now in the Princeton University Art Museum (fig. 33). The original Gillot drawing showed Harlequin in three different poses, and evidently displayed more detail in the costume than the Princeton sheet records. The tracing lacks the diamond pattern of the clown’s suit, the folds of drapery in the trousers, and the expression on the clown’s face, but these were undoubtedly present in the lost Gillot—elements recorded in Spoede’s copy.

34. Jean Jacques Spoede, Merchant from Meissen, red chalk, 24.5 x 15.1 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

35. Jost Amman, Merchant from Meissen, from the Trachtenbuch, 1577, wood cut.


As mentioned above, within the large cycle of Spoede drawings assembled here, there is a subset of characters wearing elaborate sixteenth-century fashions. They are copies after figures in Jost Amman’s Trachtenbuch, published in Nuremberg in 1577.17 For example, Spoede’s man in a cape and high domed hat is a copy after Amman’s print showing a merchant from the city of Meissen (figs. 34-35).

36. Jean Jacque Spoede, English Woman, red chalk (counterproof?), 22.5 x 17 cm. Whereabouts unknown. 37. Jean Jacque Spoede, Burgundian Woman, red chalk (counterproof?), 23 x 16.3 cm. Whereabouts unknown. 38. Jost Amman, English Woman, from the Trachtenbuch, 1577, woodcut. 39. Jost Amman, Burgundian Woman, from the Trachtenbuch, 1577, woodcut.


Similarly, the two signed Spoede drawings that emerged at the Audemer auction (figs. 36-37) are also copies after woodcuts from Amman’s Trachtenbuch (figs. 38-39). Both elaborately costumed women were derived from these late sixteenth-century German prints. The first depicts an English woman; the second is of a Burgundian woman. Exceptionally, Spoede’s copies reverse Amman’s prints, and allow the possibility that the exceptionally faint images in the Pont-Audemer drawings are counterproofs.18 Atypically,  Spoede, eliminated  the scarf flowing around the Burgundian woman’s shoulders; the artist generally delighted in costumes that were as complex as possible.

While these Spoede drawings after Amman are not directly related to Gillot, they nonetheless are linked directly to his practice. Jennifer Tonkovich has demonstrated that Gillot relied on compendia with exotic costumes, such as Nicolas de Nicolay’s Le Navigation, pélégrinations et voyages faicts en la Turquie (1577) and Jean-Baptiste van Mour’s Recueil de cent estampes représentant différents nations du Levant (1712). Even more germane, Gillot relied on Amman’s Trachtenbuch. A double-sided sheet of studies by Gillot in the Dijon Musée des beaux-arts includes two figures—a merchant’s wife and a Spanish market woman–that are copied from Amman’s imagery.19 These instance suggest that Gillot, as a designer of theatrical costumes, had a library of such pictorial works at hand for his work. Quite possibly Spoede had access to Gillot’s copy of Amman’s Trachtenbuch.



Spoede and Watteau’s friendship is alluded to in Edme Gersaint’s Life of Watteau. Gersaint’s wording is precise yet at the same time elusive: “he [Watteau] had recourse to M. Spoude . . . a painter from about the same area as he, and his special friend.”20 In 1710, dispirited by his lack of success as a painter, chastened by the terrible winter of 1709-10, and disappointed by his winning only second prize in the Academy’s 1709 Prix de Rome contest, Watteau wanted to return to his family home in Valenciennes. But he needed money to finance the trip. According to Gersaint’s  testimony, Watteau's friend Spoede took him to Pierre Sirois, who bought one of Watteau’s military paintings and commissioned a second, thus allowing Watteau to afford the trip to Valenciennes. Gersaint’s trustworthy account is important both for what it reveals and for what it does not touch upon.21 He was the only one of Watteau’s several  biographers to mention a friendship between Watteau and Spoede.

Gersaint implies that the friendship between Spoede and Watteau was based at least in part on their common Flemish heritage. Indeed, Spoede had been born in Antwerp around 1680 and thus was Watteau’s senior by a few years. He arrived in Paris prior to 1700, at least two years before Watteau did. The two men, approximately the same age, could well have known each other through the Franco-Flemish community of artists in Paris. Dacier, Vuaflart, and Hérold presumed that Watteau was the senior member in this relationship, but that is probably a biased judgment based upon Watteau’s later fame. The  relationship may have been on a more even footing. It is even probable that Watteau was the junior partner. Gersaint’s account does not specify when all this transpired but, as we now know, Watteau applied in the fall of 1710 for his passport to leave for Valenciennes. Thus their friendship must have begun before then.22

In the past scholars have given all sorts of explanations of how the two men met. Nagler began a tradition, claiming that when Spoede came to Paris he studied under Watteau and then became his friend.23 But Spoede arrived in the city before 1700, at least two years before Watteau, and he was several years older than Watteau; if anything, Spoede would have been the teacher. Moreover, at this date, Watteau did not have his own atelier, much less students. Some scholars have proposed that Spoede and Gillot knew each other from the Académie, given that both artists were involved with that august body in the 1710s.24 Mauclair and others suggested that Spoede introduced Watteau to the 1704 Salon and the Académie itself.25 Gillet imagined that when Watteau first came to Paris, they met through the Franco-Flemish community and that it was Spoede who introduced Watteau to Métayer, his first employer.26 Dacier, Vuaflart, and Hérold, as well as Adhémar and others, posited that Spoede introduced Watteau to Gillot.27 All these speculations are nothing more than that—speculations without a basis in fact.

It is our contention that Spoede and Watteau met and became friends while both were working in Gillot’s shop. All of Watteau’s biographers agree that our artist studied under Gillot, and his early oeuvre supports this. Spoede’s drawings demonstrate that he had an extensive knowledge of Gillot’s drawings; they  presuppose that he had been in Gillot’s workshop. Comparisons between Gillot’s, Spoede’s, and Watteau’s drawings offer compelling evidence of their close relationship and present a fascinating image of an artistic ménage à trois.


40. Watteau, Five Commedia dell’arte characters (detail), red chalk counterproof, 17.6 x 22.5 cm. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des arts graphiques.

41. Jean Jacques Spoede, A Woman Holding a Basket, red chalk, 27.5 x 18 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

42. Jean Jacques Spoede, A Man Raising a Glass and a Flask of Wine, red chalk, 27.5 x 18 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

43. Jean Jacques Spoede, Triumph of Silenus (detail), oil on canvas. Paris, FM collection.


Of prime importance is an early Watteau double-faced sheet in the Louvre. The recto is a compositional study used by Watteau for his painting, Le Colin-maillard (The Game of Blind Man’s Buff). However, it is the verso (fig. 40), a somewhat abraded counterproof, that demands our attention. The five characters and their arrangement as adjacent actors in a row is often considered to be Gillotesque—so much so that in the early twentieth century the sheet was attributed to Gillot. Today it is agreed that the drawing is by Watteau. However, three of the characters copy figures that must have been invented by Gillot and that  were also copied by Spoede. Watteau's rendering of a woman holding a basket of flowers over her arm corresponds to a Spoede drawing in the album in the Bibliothèque nationale (fig. 41). So too the man at the right, lifting a glass and carafe, corresponds to another Spoede drawing in the Bibliothèque nationale album (fig. 42). Finally, the man in Watteau’s drawing, holding a staff encircled by a vine, must also have been copied by Spoede in a drawing which, although it has not survived, is reflected in a character who appears in one of Spoede’s early paintings, a Triumph of Silenus (fig. 43). Although these three characters cannot be traced back to Gillot drawings, we have demonstrated that as a rule, Spoede’s studies of such actors were based on Gillot drawings, and there is no reason to presume that this rule dule does not apply here as well. That Watteau’s studies, already recognized as Gillotesque by previous scholars, were based on specific models invented by Gillort is a natural extension.

44. Antoine Watteau, Seven Theatrical Characters and Miscellaneous Studies, red chalk, 16.8 x 22.1 cm. Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum.

45. Jean Jacques Spoede, Actor Playing Castanets, red chalk, 27 x 16.7 cm. Paris, Musée Carnavalet.

46. Jean Jacques Spoede, Pierrot, red chalk, 27.3 x 18 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

47. Jean Jacques Spoede, Actress Dressed as a Jester, red chalk, 29.5 x 21 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

48. Jean Jacques Spoede, Actor, red chalk, 27.5 x 18 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

49. Anonymous artist after Claude Gillot, Crepin’s Master, red and black chalk, 12.5 x 8 cm. New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, bequest of Harry G. Sperling.


Equally remarkable are the correspondences between several theatrical figures drawn by Watteau on a sheet now in Darmstadt (fig. 44) and four Spoede drawings (figs. 45-48). The Darmstadt sheet is one of several early compositional studies by Watteau that are in the German museum. In the past Watteau’s figures have been classified as Gillotesque in inspiration, although none of them could be traced to extant models by Gillot. On the other hand, almost all these figures correspond to Spoede drawings. The fancifully dressed man at the left of the Darmstadt drawing, his outstretched arms holding castanets, corresponds exactly to a castanet player drawn by Spoede, now in the Musée Carnavalet (fig. 45). Likewise, Watteau’s figure of a turbaned clown standing in profile matches a Spoede drawing in the Bibliothèque nationale album (fig. 46). The actress holding a jester’s staff in her left hand, embracing the shoulder of the adjacent Pierrot, is based on a Spoede drawing where, however, she does not embrace a second figure (fig. 47). At the extreme far right of Watteau’s composition is an elderly, bearded actor but at some point in its history the drawing was trimmed, this losing the back half of the figure. Nonetheless, it is clear that this figure  corresponds to a Spoede drawing in the Bibliothèque nationale (fig. 48) and it also is related to a figure of a comedian by Gillot that is recorded in a drawing in the Metropolitan Museum (fig. 49), which was engraved under the title Crepin…parlant à son maître.28 In short, at least five of the seven figures in the Darmstadt sheet correspond to models presumably drawn by Gillot and also copied by Spoede.29

50.Anonymous draftsman after Watteau, Three Actors, red chalk, 11.6 x 18.2 cm. Rouen, Musée des beaux-arts.

51. Gérard Jean-Baptiste Scotin after Watteau, Les Jaloux (detail), engraving.

52. Nicolas Jacob after Watteau, Le Départ des comédiens italiens en 1697 (detail), engraving. 

53. Jean Jacques Spoede, Actor with a Large Cape and Hat, red chalk, 27 x 18.4 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.


Another example of a correspondence between a Watteau drawing and one by Spoede is more obscure. A sheet in the Rouen Musée des beaux-arts has three studies after lost Watteau drawings (fig. 50).30 The figure at the far right is based on a lost Watteau study of a seated Pierrot, one that the artist used for his Les Jaloux, the painting that he submitted to the Academy when he was agréé in 1712 (figs. 51, 55). The standing woman at the center of the Rouen sheet, her arms raised and the train of her dress bunched on the ground, closely resembles the actress at the center of Watteau’s Le Départ des comédiens italiens en 1697, a painting known through the engraving in the Jullienne Oeuvre gravé (figs. 52, 54). However, it is the actor at the far left, dressed in a long cloak with a turned-up collar and holding his hat across his chest, who merits our attention. Given that the other two figures on the Rouen sheet reflect early Watteau drawings, in all probability this third does as well. Moreover, this character corresponds to one of the Spoede drawings in the Bibliothèque nationale  (fig. 52). Both revert to a no-longer extant invention by Gillot.

Turning back to Gersaint’s tale of how Spoede came to Watteau’s aid when he needed to raise money for his trip to Valenciennes, the concept that they were friends is more meaningful. As former colleagues—Watteau had left Gillot’s shop by then and perhaps Spoede had as well—they had much in common. Thanks to their stay with Gillot, they were working in modern, novel genres that would mark their later careers. None of the Watteau biographies mention Spoede again, and while the two artists may have had occasional contact, it would seem they went their separate ways. Watteau’s stay in Valenciennes in 1710-11 was of short duration but whether he renewed his contact with Spoede is uncertain.


54. Louis Jacob after Watteau, Le Depart des comédiens italiens en 1697, engraving.

55. Gérard Jean-Baptiste Scotin after Watteau, Les Jaloux, engraving.

Watteau’s career, although profoundly influenced by his stay with Gillot and howsoever much his work paralleled Spoede’s in these first years, soon found its own path.31 Several of Watteau’s early works depict staged productions and simple fêtes galantes in the manner of Gillot’s paintings. Watteau’s Départ des comédiens italiens en 1697, for example, portrays the play of the same name in a very Gillotesque formula (fig. 54). As is generally recognized, L’Île de Cythère, now in Frankfurt, portrays an intermezzo scene in Florent Dancourt’s Les Trois cousines where the chorus advises the cousins to travel to the enchanted island of love. The influence of Gillot’s work can also be seen in Watteau’s Les Jaloux, the painting he submitted to the French Royal Academy when he was agréé in 1712 (fig. 55). Just as in Gillot’s theatrical subjects, the composition remains planar, imitating the look of a staged production. The actors are restricted to a narrow, shelf-like stage and the landscape behind them resembles a painted backdrop; they perform only in the foreground, much like the actors in Gillot’s Deux carosses, a painting in which Watteau may have assisted.  

56. Antoine Aveline after Watteau, Le Buveur, engraving.

57. Watteau, Five Commedia dell’arte characters (detail), red chalk counterproof. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des arts graphiques.

58. Jean Jacques Spoede, A Man Lifting Aloft a Glass and a Flask of Wine, red chalk, 27.5 18 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.


The figural elements in the arabesques that Watteau designed after he had left Gillot and was working for Audran still reverberate with motifs derived from Gillot. At the same time they offer parallels with Spoede’s drawings. In his arabesque Le Buveur, painted for the Hôtel de Poulpry (fig. 56), the central motif of a man springing into the air, holding aloft a glass and flask of wine, ultimately derives from the early Watteau drawing in the Louvre (fig. 57). That figure and one of Spoede’s drawings (fig. 58) are related to a common model by Gillot that has not survived.


59. Jean Moyreau after Watteau, La Folie, engraving.

60. Antoine Watteau, Seven Theatrical Characters and Miscellaneous Studies (detail), red chalk. Darmstadt, Hessisches Landesmuseum.

61. Jean Jacques Spoede, Actress Dressed as a Jester, red chalk, 29.5 x 21 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

In La Folie, another arabesque in the Hôtel de Poulpry, the actress dressed as Folly, holds a jester’s staff in her hand and lifts a foot off the ground as through dancing (fig. 58). Her origins can be traced to the drawing in Darmstadt (fig. 60). At the same time a similar figure is found in one of Spoede’s drawings (fig. 61). Presumably both Watteau and Spoede derived their figures from a common model by Gillot.


62. Jean Moyreau after Watteau, Le Vendangeur, engraving.

63. Watteau, Five Commedia dell’arte characters (detail), red chalk counterproof. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des arts graphiques.

64. Watteau, Sheet of Studies (detail), red chalk. New York, Morgan Library and Museum.

65. Jean Jacques Spoede, Triumph of Silenus (detail), oil on canvas. Paris, FM collection.


Finally, we might consider Le Vendangeur, another arabesque from the Hôtel de Poulpry; in this instance it features a man holding a staff entwined with vines (fig. 62). The same character is found in two early Watteau drawing. One is the sheet in the Louvre which has been discussed, and where a similar (but not identical) figure stands next to the man with an upraised flask of wine (fig. 63). But Watteau drew essentially the same character on another sheet, now in the Morgan Library and Museum (fig. 64). In this second rendering not only is the man delineated more carefully, but also the details of his pose and costume are more closely aligned with Le Vendangeur. In the Morgan drawing the man is standing with one arm akimbo and, while still set in profile, his torse is frontal just as in Watteau’s arabesque. The figure in the Morgan drawing is one of four actors drawn as separate studies nut aligned horizontally across the page. Their fanciful costumes and poses have led most scholars to term them ”gillotesque,” an appellation which is well deserved. There is no Spoede with this exact figure, although there are drawings of essentially the same character. However, this very same figure does appear in an early Spoede painting, standing in profile and holding a vine-entwined staff with an upraised arm, just as in Watteau’s drawing and arabesque (fig. 65). Once again, we cannot help but be astonished by the many correspondences among the artworks of these contemporaries.

The presence of Gillot-inspired motifs in Watteau’s arabeques, designed while he was working for Audran, is striking. In fact, the relationship between Audran and Gillot is just beginning to be mapped. It should be remembered that when Watteau broke with Gillot, it was Gillot who introduced Watteau to Audran. For this we have the testimony of the abbé Leclerc.32 Recently Tonkovich has shown that among the more than 1,500 drawings from Audran’s atelier now in the Stockholm Nationalmuseum, there is a large body of drawings by Gillot and his shop, as well as tracings after Gillot compositions.33 As Tonkovich concludes, their discovery “implies a closer working relationship between the two artists than was previously understood.” Indeed, although we may not yet be able to pinpoint the exact relationship between Audran and Gillot, there evidently were significant connections. The Paris art world was labyrinthian and a Theseus is needed to guide us through the maze.

Turning back to Spoede, his career is less well charted, especially in these early years. Despite his knowledge of Gillot’s and Watteau’s work, the artist seems to have had little interest in painting theatrical scenes. Among the few such subjects is a picture showing six actors making music in a wooded grove. When it came up for sale in 1926, it was attributed to the “école de Lancret” even though Spoede’s signature was visible—a good indication of how obscure  the artist was a century ago.34 Also the Paignon-Dijonval collection, formed in the late eighteenth century, contained a red and black chalk  drawing showing a bust-length image of Pierrot embracing a young girl.35 Presumably Spoede painted other works featuring the commedia dell’arte but no extant examples are known—suggesting that they did not constitute a major part of his oeuvre. So too, he apparently was indifferent to painting arabesques or other forms of decorative art.


66. Jean Jacques Spoede, Triumph of Bacchus, oil on canvas, 66 x 88 cm. Paris, private collection.

67. Jean Jacques Spoede, Actor with a Staff, red chalk, 27.5 x 18.5 cm. Whereabouts unknown.

68. Jean Jacques Spoede, A Comic Character Pointing Downward, red chalk, 27.2 x 18.3 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.

69. Jean Jacques Spoede, A Woman Holding a Basket, red chalk, 27.5 x 18 cm. Paris, Bibliothèque nationale.


Instead, Spoede preferred to pursue Gillot’s world of pagan gods and mythology. Although Spoede did not sign or date them, I believe that several paintings in Parisian private collections can be situated in the earliest portion of his career and are particularly pertinent because some of the figures in their foregrounds are related to drawings by Spoede and Watteau. In his Triumph of Bacchus, the man with the staff at the far left, the man with the sloping hat, and the woman with the basket over her arm, all correspond to Spoede drawings (figs. 66-69). The painting has, at least nominally, a mythological theme—homage being paid to the god of wine—and is related to Gillot’s many compositions of celebration of the pagan gods but the differences far outweigh the similarities. The inclusion of theatrical figures in the foreground is telling, although later in his career Spoede reverted to the type of multi-figured compositions that Gillot favored.

70. Jean Jacques Spoede, Triumph of Silenus, oil on canvas, 37 x 45.5 cm. Paris, FM collection.

71. Watteau, Five Commedia dell’arte characters (detail), red chalk counterproof. Paris, Musée du Louvre, Département des arts graphiques.


The same is true of a Spoede painting showing a Triumph of Silenus (fig. 70). In this mock procession, the drunken god, assisted by nymphs and satyrs, is regarded by two actors who seem out of place in this mythological realm—a man and woman in early eighteenth-century dress, each holding staffs entwined with grape vines. The man harkens back to a lost Gillot drawing that Spoede must have copied, and that Watteau also copied in the drawing now in the Musée du Louvre (fig. 71).

Although we have focused primarily on Spoede’s drawings of theatrical characters, it is evident that they were closely related to his paintings, and as we discover more of the artist’s canvases, especially his early ones, the relationship between these two media may become more apparent.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Examining the works of these different artists within this narrow timeframe affords us a better sense of the Parisian art world art outside the Académie. Our consideration of these petits maîtres sheds light on French art in the first decades of the eighteenth century. It is fascinating to speculate whether Gillot, Spoede, Watteau, or Audran met again in the years after 1710. That would have been an interesting conversation to overhear, particularly if they discussed the separate paths that each followed. It would be illuminating to hear their anecdotes, especially since none of that is even hinted at in the artists’ standard biographies.





1 Pierre Jean Mariette, "Notes manuscrites sur les peintres et les graveurs (1740-1770)," Paris, Bibliothèque nationale, Cabinet des estampes, 3: 69. Mariette was comparing Spoede’s work with that of Maurice Quentin de la Tour, his supposed pupil. In fact, La Tour was not Spoede’s pupil; see François Marandet, “The Apprenticeship of Maurice-Quentin de La Tour (1704-88),” Burlington Magazine, 144 (August 2002), 502-05.

2 Much of the material presented here was presented previously by me: “Watteau and Gillot: A Point of Contact,” Burlington Magazine, 115 (April 1973), 232-39; ibid., 116 (September 1974), 538-39; also “Jean Jacques Spoede, Watteau’s ‘Special Friend,’” Gazette des beaux-arts, ser. 6, 136(November 2000), 179-96.

3 Karl T. Parker and Jacques Mathey, Antoine Watteau, catalogue complet de son oeuvre dessiné (Paris: 1957), 2 vols., cat. 68-73, 936-37. For a more current overview of these drawings’ provenance and bibliography, see Pierre Rosenberg and Louis-Antoine Prat, Antoine Watteau, catalogue raisonné des dessins, 3 vols. (Milan: 1996), 3: cat. R311, R373, R374, R439, R458, R515, R516, R613.

4 For some of these additional drawings, see Rosenberg and Prat, Watteau, catalogue raisonné des dessins (1996), 3: cat. R2, R308, R309, R312, R353, R612, R700.

5 For example, several were in the Chicago collection of Louis H. Silver, a pair are in the musée Carnavalet, and another two were in the collection of Eugène Rodriguez.  

6 Sale, Pont-Audemer, June 21, 1998, lots 49-50. I know these works only from second-hand xerox images. The drawings apparently were not photographed before the sale.

7  See Axel Moulinier, Les Satellites de Watteau (Paris: 2020), 14. Regarding this album, which had contained drawings by Watteau and his contemporaries, see Pierre Rosenberg, “L’Album Groult, dit aussi Album Lepeltier,” in Hans Dickel and Christoph Martin Vogtherr, ed., Preussen, Die Kunst und Individuum: Beiträge gewidmet Helmut Börsch-Supan (Berlin: 2008), 29-39.

8 The album has an interesting provenance, having come from the collection of Auguste Lesouëf (1829-1906), an avid bibliophile as well as collector of medals and drawings.

9 Paris, Galerie Cailleux, Le Rouge et le noir, Cent dessins français de 1700 à 1850, exh. cat. (Paris: 1991), cat. 30. See also Jennifer Tonkovich, Claude Gillot and the Theater, with a Catalogue of Drawings, Ph.D. thesis (Rutgers University: 2002), 3 vols., 2: cat. R16.

10 Marianne Roland Michel, Watteau, An Artist of the Eighteenth Century (New York: 1984), 126-27.

11 Grasselli in Margaret Morgan Grasselli and Pierre Rosenberg, ed., Watteau 1684-1721, exh. cat. (Washington, D.C., National Gallery; Paris, Musée du Louvre; Berlin, Schloss Charlottenburg), 54. See also idem.,The Drawings of Antoine Watteau: Stylistic Development and Problems of Chronology, Ph.D. diss. (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University, 1987), 41.

12 See the discussion in Rosenberg and Prat, Antoine Watteau, catalogue raisonné des dessins, 3: cat. R 2. It should be noted that although they include in this series two drawings associated with Les Deux carosses, but these drawings reveal nothing of Spoede’s distinctive manner.

13  This unusual character, resembling Pierrot but with a cockscomb hat, appears in a Gillot drawing with the Parisian dealer Jean-Christophe Baudequin. He also appears in works by Watteau, including his Gilles in the Louvre.

14  Paris, Hôtel Drouot (Piasa), March 22, 2002, lot 96. It is quite possible that originally the sheet was twice as wide, and contained one or two additional figures, a  common format for such sheets by Gillot. In its present state, the figures seem unnaturally cramped in too narrow a space. For a similar comic actor with a tambourine, see the Gillot sheet of studies sold Paris, Hôtel Drouot (Ferri), December 19, 2014, lot 8.

15  In certain ways this solider recalls the equally sheepish, embarrassed figure of the Pierrot dressed in a cuirasse in the Abduction of Helen in the collection of Mary Tavener Homes, New York.

16 London, Christie’s, July 2, 1991, lot 156.

17  See Martin Eidelberg, “Fantastic Costumes and Factual Prints,” On Paper, 1 (March-April 1997), 20-21.

18 If the sheet is a counterproof, the signature would have to have been added after the counterproof was pulled.

19  Dijon, Musée des beaux-arts, inv. Alb. TH 18 104. For the sources in Amman’s Trachtenbuch, see plates 20  and 161.

20 Edme François Gersaint, “Abrégé de la vie d’Antoine Watteau,” (1744), in Pierre Rosenberg, ed., Vies anciennes de Watteau (Paris: 1984), 33: “Dans cette occasion  il eut recours à M. Spoude, actuellement vivant, peintre à peu près des mêmes Cantons que lui, et son ami particulier, le hazard conduisit M. Spoude chez le sieur Sirois.” The misspelling of Spoede’s name as “Spoude” tells us that at the time Spoede’s name was pronounced in accord with its Flemish origins.

21 Edme Gersaint was not only Watteau’s good friend but also was Sirois’ son-in-law. Thus, he was well-positioned to have known this event from both Watteau and Sirois, as well as from Spoede.

22 For the date of Watteau’s passport to Valenciennes, see Cordélia Hattori,”Passeports délivrés à des artistes au XVIIIe siècle: à Watteau à Oudry et à quelques autres,” Les Cahiers d’histoire de l’art, 2 (2004), 23-24.

23 Georg Kaspar Nagler, Neues allgemeines Künstler-Lexikon, 17 vols. (Munich: 1801-1866), 17: 169. This was followed by Adolphe Siret, Dictionnaire historique des peintres (Paris: 1874), 881. See also Jules Guiffrey, “Scellés et inventaires d’artistes,” Nouvelles archives de l’art français, 5 (1884), 234.

24 Émile Dacier, Albert Vuaflart, and Jacques Hérold, Jean de Jullienne et les graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe siècle, 4 vols. (Paris: 1921-29), 1: 10.

25 Camille Mauclair, Le Secret de Watteau (Paris: 1942), 32, 57. This had been intimated earlier by Paul Mantz, Antoine Watteau (Paris: 1892), 15, who wrote of Spoede studying at the Academy and gaining a minor prize in 1700; Spoede then “inspirait même des espérances.”

26  Louis Gillet, Watteau (Paris: 1921), 15, 41.

27 Dacier, Vuaflart, and Hérold, Jean de Jullienne et les graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe siècle,1: 10. Echoes of this are found in the texts of Benézit and Bernard Populus, Claude Gillot (Paris: 1930), 20; Gilbert Barker, Antoine Watteau (London: 1939), 30; Mauclair, Le Secret de Watteau, 33; Hélène Adhémar and René Huyghe, Antoine Watteau, sa vie—son oeuvre (Paris: 1950), 70.

28 For this drawing after Gillot, see Tonkovich, Claude Gillot and the Theater, 2: cat. 42. The exact model that Spoede and Watteau used must have been an updated version of Gillot’s drawing, one in which the costume was more generalized—the epaulets remained in place but the costume was presented more as a loose-hanging academic robe.

29 Probably the remaining two figures in the Watteau drawing were also based on Gillot models.

30 Rosenberg and Prat, Catalogue des dessins de Watteau, 3: cat. R744. 

31 In his early years, Watteau occasionally delved into pagan celebrations. His Fêtes au Dieu Pan, for example, is aligned with Gillot’s and Spoede’s interest in such subjects but Watteau set the scene farther back, not emphasizing the god, his human followers, or the satyrs. In effect, it is primarily a sylvan landscape.

32  See l’abbé Laurent Josse Leclerc, “Watteau,” in Le Grand dictionnaire historique du Morieri (Paris: 1725), in Rosenberg, Vies anciennes , 9: “Gillot, qui était un ami fort généreux, le produisit chez M. Audran, excellent peintre d’ornements. . .”

33  Jennifer Tonkovich, “New Light on Drawings by Claude Gillot and His Circle in Stockholm,” Master Drawings, 47 (2009), 159-73.

34 Paris, sale, Hôtel Drouot, collection of Monsieur V. de T, June 7-9, 1926, lot 54.

35 Pierre Maurice Bénard, ed., Cabinet de M. Paignon Dijonval (Paris: 1810), 80.