Le Colin maillard
Entered January 2019
64.8 X 51.3 cm
Watteau’s painting Le Colin-maillard was engraved in reverse by Etienne Brion for Jean de Jullienne’s Oeuvre gravé. The print was announced for sale in the June 1730 edition of the Mercure de France (p. 1184).
Paris, collection of Jean de Jullienne (1686-1766; director of a tapestry factory). Julienne’s ownership is indicated under the engraving: “Tiré du Cabinet de Mr Jullienne.” He sold the painting prior to 1756 since it does not appear in the illustrated catalogue of his collection that was prepared that year; the manuscript is now in the Morgan Library and Museum, New York.
London, sale, Cock’s, 1731, lot 37: “ Watteau . . . Blind Man’s Buff.”
Hédouin, “Watteau” (1845), 79.
Hédouin, Mosaïque (1856), cat. 88.
Goncourt, L’Art au XVIIIème siècle (1860), 58.
Goncourt, Catalogue raisonné (1875), cat. 187.
Dacier, Vuaflart, and Hérold, Jean de Jullienne et les graveurs (1921-29), 2: 104-06; 3: cat. 212.
Réau, “Watteau” (1928), cat. 108.
Mathey, “A propos d’une catalogue” (1938), 160-61.
Adhémar, Watteau (1950), cat. 31.
Mathey, Watteau, peintures réapparues (1959), 66.
Eidelberg, Watteau’s Drawings (1965), 18-20.
Macchia and Montagni, L’opera completa di Watteau (1968), cat. 10.
Ferré, Watteau (1972), cat. B42.
Raines, “Watteau and ‘Watteaus’ in England” (1977), 56, 59.
Roland Michel, Watteau (1981), cat. 7.
Roland Michel, Watteau (1984), 176, 212, 266, 289.
Grasselli, Drawings of Antoine Watteau (1987), 54, 68-69.
Rosenberg and Prat, Watteau, Catalogue raisonné des dessins (1996), under cat. 10.
Valenciennes, Musée, Watteau et la fête galante (2004), cat. 78.
Glorieux, “L’Angleterre et Watteau” (2006), 57, 70.
Watteau’s Le Colin-maillard is one of several early paintings that can be linked directly to full compositional studies; the others include Les Délassements de la guerre and Le Repos gracieux. Their combined evidence suggests that contrary to his later practice when he composed more directly on the canvas, in his earlier career he followed traditional modes of working.
A study for Le Colin-maillard is recorded in a counterproof now in the Louvre (Rosenberg and Prat 10). The other side of the sheet shows a series of separate figures, apparently not drawn from life and unrelated to each other. The latter figures are decidedly Gillotesque in spirit but not in draftsmanship. Nonetheless, both side of the sheet were credited to Gillot until 1938 when Jacque Mathey first recognized that they were by the young Watteau. Prior to then it had been assumed that Watteau had borrowed his master’s sketch for his painting. But now, with the realization that the drawing is Watteau’s own invention, other questions arise: was this a game that Watteau actually observed and drew, or, more likely, was he working from his imagination, posing the figures in a lively arrangement. The study is rapidly drawn, and some of the figures, such as the kneeling man in the foreground, are not fully realized, but a secondary sketch at the top of the page offers greater resolution.
Although we have little information about Le Colin-maillard that sold in London in 1731, it seems highly likely that this was the original Watteau painting. The painting was only engraved the previous year, leaving very little time for the engraving to have circulated and been copied. The actual sale catalogue has not even survived. All we have is Richard Houlditch’s transcription and that does not record the selling price nor the buyer’s name. It has not been possible to trace the painting in subsequent eighteenth-century sales in England.
Scholars are in agreement that Le Colin Maillard is a very early painting. The overall proportions of the figures—long and with small heads—is a clear indication of this. The stiffness of pose of the men at either side, one seated, the other standing, affords additional evidence of the artist’s lack of skill. But, as always, there is no agreement as to exactly when the painting was executed since there are few chronological markers in Watteau’s juvenilia. Mathey proposed c. 1705-05; Roland Michel suggested 1705-08; Adhémar favored 1705-09; Rosenberg and Prat dated the Louvre drawing to c. 1708; Eidelberg suggested c. 1708-10. One of the major issues in trying to date Watteau’s early works is that we do not know when Watteau started to paint independently.
Although depictions of games are so frequent in French eighteenth-century paintings, we must not overlook that they still were a novel subject in Watteau’s era. There are precedents, primarily in graphic arts such as Adam Pérelles’ engraving of Le Jeu de colin-maillard. But such pictorial precedents are rare and did not demonstrably influence Watteau’s choice of subject.
Surprisingly, Watteau did not return to the theme of blind man’s buff in his later career, certainly not with the same frequency that he depicted scenes of women on the swing. In contrast, his pupils Pater and Lancret (but not Quillard) repeated the subject many times over. Although Watteau’s characters are fashionably dressed, the landscape setting and the bagpipes in the foreground suggested a pastoral, rural ambience. With Pater and Lancret the mood shifted perceptibly to a richer, more courtly society, sometimes in a palatial setting. In many of Pater’s paintings, cupids assist in what now is a playful game of love.
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