La Game d’amour

Entered April 2023

Fig 1

London, National Gallery of Art, NG2897

Oil on canvas

50.8 × 59.7 cm



Canzone d’amore

The Game of Love

Gamme d’amour

Love Song

Scale of Love

Die Tonleiter des Liebe



Fig 2

Jean Philippe Le Bas after Watteau, La Game d’amour, c. 1729, engraving.


La Game d’amour was engraved by Jean Philippe Le Bas before September 1729. The copper plate was cited in the posthumous inventory of François Chereau, dated September 12, 1729.



Paris, collection of Denis Mariette (1666-1741). Mariette’s ownership is recorded on the Le Bas engraving of c. 1729: “Tiré du Cabinet de M. D. Mariette.” Also, the picture was cited by Pierre Jean Mariette in his “Notes manuscrites”: “dans le Cabinet du Sieure Denys Mariette, libraire.” The painting was listed in the posthumous inventory of Denis Mariette’s collection, dated October 16, 1741.

Paris, collection of Jeanne Justine Chomel (d. 1782; daughter of Denis Mariette).

Roxburgshire, collection of Sir John Pringle, Bart. (1784-1869). His sale, London, Christie’s, May 13, 1837, lot 53: “WATTEAU . . . A CAVALIER playing the GUITAR, and a lady with a music book in a garden, a group of figures in the distance; a brilliantly coloured and exquisite specimen.” According to an annotated copy of the catalogue in Christie’s archive, the paintingsold for £90.16 to Pennell.

London, Pennell collection.

London, Philips collection. (This owner was cited by de Goncourt, who did not supply a fuller name.)

Paris, collection of Yolande Lyne Stephens, née Duvernay (1812-1894; ballet dancer). Her sale, London, Christie’s, May 9, 1895, lot 366: “The following have been removed from Mrs. Lyne Stephens’ house in Paris. ANTOINE WATTEAU. . . LA GAME D’AMOUR / 20 in. by 23 in. “Le tableau de ‘La Game d’Amour,’ tableau de la plus belle qualité, faisant partie de la Collection Philips, a été rapporté ces années dernières d’Angleterre. Il est aujourd’hui en possession de Mme. Lyne Stephens.” –  De Goncourt, L’Oeuvre d’Antoine Watteau, p. 126. Engraved by L. P. Le Bas / See Illustration.” According to an annotated copy of the sale catalogue in the Rijksbureau voor kunsthistorische Documentatie, the picture sold for £3.517.10 to Agnew.

London, with Thomas Agnew’s; sold May 13, 1895, to Julius Wernher for £3.869 5s.

London, collection of Sir Julius Wernher (1850-1912; mining magnate and philanthropist). Bequeathed by him to the National Gallery in 1912.



Paris, 1874, cat. 529.

London, Guildhall, Painters of the French School (1898), cat. 59 (as Watteau, La Gamme d’amour, lent by Julius Wernher, Esq.)

Bristol, Newcastle, and London, 2003.



Mariette, “Notes manuscrites,” 10, fol. 193, 54.

Hédouin, “Watteau” (1845), cat. 107.

Hédouin, Mosaïque (1856), cat. 108.

Goncourt, L’Art au XVIIIème siècle (1860), 57.

Cellier, Watteau (1867), 87.

Goncourt, Catalogue raisonné (1875), cat. 136.

Dohme, “Die Ausstellung” (1883), 238.

Phillips, Watteau (1895), 67.

Temple, Examples of French Art (1898), 4.

Dilke, French Painters (1899), 84, 86, 90.

Josz, Watteau (1903), 320, 321.

Josz, Watteau (1904), 142.

Fourcaud, “Scènes et figures galantes” (1905), 113-14.

Foster, French Art (1905), 1: 103.

Zimmermann, Watteau (1912), pl. 124.

Pilon, Watteau et son école (1912), 28, 103, 113, 114, 121, 149.

Graves, A Century of Loan Exhibitions (1913-15), 1616.

Dacier, Vuaflart, and Hérold, Jean de Jullienne et les graveurs (1921-29), 1: 131; 2:  23, 30, 31, 32, 65, 66, 79, 94, 96, 122, 131, 152, 162; 3: cat. 199.

Réau, “Watteau” (1928), cat. 127.

Barker, Watteau (1939), 148.

Davies, French School (1946), 93-94

Adhémar, Watteau (1950), cat. 169.

Davies, French School (1957), 222-23.

Mathey, Watteau, peintures réapparues (1959), 69.

Brookner, Watteau (1967), cat. 19.

Macchia and Montagni, L’opera completa di Watteau (1968), cat. 161.

Ferré, Watteau (1972), cat. A15.

Roland Michel, Watteau (1981), cat. 210.

Roland Michel, Watteau (1984), 186, 223, 229.

Wilson, French Paintings (1985), 78.

Washington, Paris, Berlin, Watteau 1684-1721 (1984), 535.

Grasselli, “New Observations” (1987), 98.

Rosenberg, “Répétitions et répliques” (1987), 107.

Gétreau, “Watteau et la musique” (1987), 241.

Kocks, “Le Monument Watteau” (1987), 322.

Vidal, Watteau’s Painted Conversations (1992), 50-51.

Rosenberg and Prat, Watteau, Catalogue raisonné des dessins (1996), 328, 399, 409, 479, 490, 500, 503, 522, 591, R 35, G 67.

Temperini, Watteau (2002), 76, cat. 76.

Michel, Le «célèbre Watteau» (2008), 237, 254.

Glorieux, Watteau (2011), 195.

Brussels, Palais des beaux-arts, Watteau, Leçon de musique (2013), 16, 115, 121-23, 134.

Wine, Eighteenth Century French Paintings (2018), 547-65.



There are eight figures in La Game d'amour: two principal ones and six secondary characters. Remarkably, a good number of the preliminary studies from the model are still extant.


Watteau, La Game d’amour (detail)


Watteau, Three Studiers of Men, 24.2 x 37.9 cm, red, black, and white chalk. London, British Museum.

Watteau, A Seated Guitarist, 26.9 x 8.9 cm, red and black chalk. Rouen, Musée des beaux-arts.

The guitarist can be traced to a Watteau study from the model. He was based on a trois crayons study now in the British Museum (Rosenberg and Prat 479), but since that drawing does not show his crossed legs, it may well be that Watteau relied on a second study, such as the one in Rouen (Rosenberg and Prat 591) where the same musician is captured in a very similar pose but full length and with only slightly different elements.


Watteau, La Game d’amour (detail).


Watteau, Study of a Seated Woman, red chalk, 15.8 x 11.6 cm. Boston, Horvitz collection.

In terms of the inclination of her torso and the way her legs are tucked under her, the guitarist’s companion is close to a Watteau drawing in the Horvitz collection (Rosenberg and Prat 328). However, the correspondence is not exact. Parker and Mathey, as well as Grasselli, posited that a Louvre drawing was the one that Watteau relied on for La Game d’amour but, as Rosenberg and Prat point out (cat. 390), here too the differences are substantial. Watteau may have turned to still another study of a similarly posed model, seated on the ground and slightly inclined.

Fig 2

Watteau, Four Studies of a Seated Woman (detail), red, black, and white chalk. Boston, Museum of Fine Arts.


Watteau also turned to a beautifully drawn study of the woman’s head and upper torso, now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (Rosenberg and Prat 552). Possibly he relied on just a rapid sketch for her dress and legs, such as the sheet in the Horvitz collection.


Watteau, La Game d’amour (detail).


Watteau, Récréation galante (detail), Berlin, Gemäldegalerie.


But did Watteau actually refer to these drawings from the model? The situation is complex because these same two figures also appear in Watteau’s Assemblé galante and Récréation galante. Instead of referring to his original drawings, could Watteau have turned back to one of these paintings? Or, still more likely, after painting the major lines of this couple on the primed canvas, might he have struck a counterproof of the two figures—much the way he transferred his imagery from the Louvre version of the Pèlerinage to the second version, the one now in Berlin?


Watteau, La Game d’amour (detail).


Watteau, Study of a Seated Woman, red chalk and graphite counterproof, 22.8 x 17.9 cm, New York private collection.

Watteau, Study of a Man Seen from Behind, red, black, and white chalk, 20.8 x 22.7 cm, New York, Morgan Library & Museum.

Apropos of the couple at the far right of the painting, the woman with her head covering falling to one side was based on a drawing that has not survived but which is recorded in a counterproof in a New York private collection (Rosenberg and Prat 500). Her male companion, slightly too small in scale in the painting, was based on a trois crayons drawing in the Morgan Library & Museum (Rosenberg and Prat 503).


Watteau, Game d’amour (detail).


Watteau, Two Studies of a Seated Woman (detail), red chalk. Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum.

Watteau, Two Studies of a child (detail), red and white chalk. Paris, Musée du Louvre.

Likewise, two separate drawings were called upon for the mother and daughter. The woman looking down at her child was based on a drawing in the Rijksmuseum (Rosenberg and Prat 399). Her coy child derives from a sheet of studies of children now in the Louvre (Rosenberg and Prat 409).



The whereabouts of La Game d'amour in the mid-nineteenth century are unclear. Edmond de Goncourt cites it as having been in the Pennell and Philips collections without giving the owners’ full names. It is written that the picture passed by descent from the Philips collection to Yolande Lyne Stephens without explaining the relationship between the two parties.

Although it is an unusually bright and colorful work, commentors have frequently deplored its abused surface and restored portions. As Davies remarked in 1946, “the paint is flattened, and in places a good deal rubbed; this is marked in the foliage, where there is also a good deal of restoration, but the figures too have lost considerable liveliness.” Eleven years later Davies reported the condition as only “somewhat rubbed, some restoration.” Adhémar called it “très restauré.” Brookner wrote that the painting was in poor condition even before Watteau died, but does not explain the basis for such a claim. Camesasca, Montagni and Macchia, as well as Temperini, speak of the painting’s “poor condition,” and how that prevents their being certain of the attribution.

These damningly negative voices are curiously at odds with Wine’s careful analysis of the painting’s surface. He mentions that the impasto has been flattened due to relining, and that there are scattered losses such as behind the singer’s head, to the left of the tree, on the singer’s left breast, the guitarist’s right hand, and in the tree branch to the right of the herm which has been reinforced. These and other minor damages are slight in comparison to the losses sustained by so many other of Watteau’s fragile pictures. Certainly they are not so substantial as to bring the authenticity of the picture into question.


Watteau, La Game d’amour.


Watteau, Récréation galante (detail), Berlin, Gemäldegalerie.

La Game d’amour has much in common with other fêtes galantes by Watteau, especially Recréation galante (in Berlin) and Assemblée galante (recorded in a print by Jean Philippe Le Bas). Indeed, the two principal characters in La Game d’amour—the guitarist and the singer he is courting—reappear in these two other fêtes. The couple strolling away and the children also have counterparts in the other two paintings. In general, Watteau’s larger, more complex compositions precede his smaller, simpler reductions. In other words, La Game d’amour was probably executed after Recréation galante and Assemblé galante. But the effect of La Game d’amour, is quite different and distinctive in that the couple looms large in the foreground while the other attendees at this fête are small and seen at a distance. The narrative shifts from the ensemble to just these two featured players, and focuses on their relationship, however one interprets it.

Presumably the title given this composition—The Gamut [or Range] of Love—refers to the musical score being played and the harmony of the performers, as well as to the gamut of emotions experienced by this and any young couple in love. Yet Watteau, as could be expected, created a sedate scene without a display of physical passion. Moreover, the presence in the background of charming young children and paired adults reinforces the aura of decorum. This is generally the emotional level of Watteau’s paintings, unlike those of his followers such as Pater and Lancret, where the adults are often friskier, even aggressive with each other.

As always, critics seem intent on finding hidden meanings or narratives in Watteau’s pictures. Overemphasizing the element of conversation in Watteau’s paintings, Vidal has characterized La Game d’amour as showing how a dialogue  has interrupted the couple’s music-making and has distracted them from their duet. She claims that the guitarist’s inclination “is the sort of movement that accompanies conversation . . . rather than the performance of music.” To her, the guitarist’s fingering of the chords “suggests a high-pitched, light, soft strumming intended to accompany or elicit speech.” On the other hand, Wilson claims that the title “reinforces the suggestions that the musical harmony of voice and guitar is intended as an outward sign of the union of lovers.”

Brookner thought the painting was executed c. 1715. Nemilova and Grasselli placed it slightly later, to 1716-17. Most critics have dated it still later, to c. 1717-18; this is the opinion of Phillips, Huyghe, Davies, Wine, and others. Assemblée galante and Recréation galante are generally dated c. 1717-18 and, if correct, this span of years would confirm the dating of La Game d’amour to the same period.



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