Entered April 2023; revised May 2023
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, inv. 474 B
Oil on canvas
114.5 x 167.2 cm
Assemblée galante dans un parc
Convegno in un parco
Entertainment in Open Air
Une Fête en plein air
Fête Galante mit Guitarrenspieler vor einer Skulptur mit Putti und einem Ziegenbock
Gathering in a Park near a Sculpture of Putti with a Ram
Gesellschaft im Freien
Réunion galante dans un parc
The painting was not engraved for the Jullienne Oeuvre gravé.
Potsdam, collection of Frederick II; cited in 1773 when it was in the Small Gallery (Kleine Galerie) of the Sans Souci Palace.
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie, Alten Museum, 1888-1904.
Berlin, Kaiser Friedrich Museum, 1904-1945.
Washington, DC, National Gallery of Art, 1945-1949.
Wiesbaden, Central Collecting Point.
Dahlem, Gemäldegalerie, 1956-1996.
Berlin, Gemäldegalerie am Kultforum.
London, Guildhall, Painters of the French School (1898), cat. 59.
Wiesbaden, Landesmuseum, Returned Masterpieces (1949), cat. 192 (as by Watteau, Gesellschaft im Freien/ Outdoor Festival).
Paris, Petit Palais, Chefs d’oeuvres (1951), cat. 56 (as by Watteau, Réunion galante dans un parc).
Wiesbaden, Landesmuseum, Französische Kunst (1951), cat. 52 (as by Watteau, Gesellschaft im Freien, lent by the Staatliche Museen, Berlin).
Munich, Residenz, The Age of Rococo (1958), cat. 218 (as by Watteau, A Party in the Open [Récréation Galante], lent by the Museum Dahlem).
Potsdam, Meisterwerke (1962), cat. 92 (as by Watteau, Gesellschaft im Freien, lent by the Staatliche Museen).
Washington, Paris, and Berlin, Watteau (1984), cat. P 63 (as by Watteau, Gallant Recreation [Récréation galante], lent by the Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin).
Munich, Kunsthalle, Friederich der Grosse (1992), cat. 85 (as by Watteau, Gesellschaft im Freien, lent by the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemäldegalerie).
Bristol, City Museum, Paradise (2003).
Paris, Jacquemart-André, De Watteau à Fragonard (2014), cat. 8 (as by Watteau, Récréation galante, lent by Berlin, Gemäldegalerie).
Dohme, “Ausstellung” (1883), 238-39.
Zimmerman, Watteau (1912), no. 105.
Adhémar, Watteau (1950), 105, cat. 190.
Paris, La Peinture française à la cour de Fréderick II (1963), under cat. 40.
Macchia and Montagni, L’opera completa di Watteau (1968), cat. 173.
Ferré, Watteau (1972), cat. B50.
Posner, Watteau (1984), 196-99, 201, 289.
Roland Michel, Watteau (1981), cat. 213.
Roland-Michel, Watteau (1984), 223, 229, 270-71.
Eisler, Masterworks in Berlin (1996), 457.
Rosenberg and Prat, Watteau, catalogue raisonné des dessins (1996), cat. 182, 328, 383, 429, 474, 504, 505, 517, 522, 526, 535, 575, 591.
Temperini, Watteau (2002), 93, cat. 85.
Rosenberg, Gesamtverzeichnis französische Gemälde (2005), cat. 1234.
Glorieux, Watteau (2011), 303-04.
Vogtherr, Französischer Malerei (2011), cat. B4.
As befits a composition with eighteen figures, a good number of drawings associated with this composition have survived. However, because Récréation galante and Assemblée galante are so closely related—essentially one repeats the other—it is most likely that for the second iteration the artist did not turn back to his original drawings, but instead worked from the first picture. The question, of course, is which was the first.
The study for the arrogant strutting man at the left of the picture is preserved in a drawing in Paris (Rosenberg and Prat 505). It was cut from a once larger sheet, and traces of another figure can be seen at the right margin.
Of the many children in the painting, only two can be traced to preliminary drawings. One is the girl sitting on the ground, playing with a dog. She, but not the dog, is taken from a sheet in the Louvre that contains several views of young girls. Watteau apparently used a counterproof since the girl appears in reverse in the painting.
The second child in the Berlin painting that is traceable to a drawing is the girl in the foreground, standing with her back to us, holding a dog on her shoulder. She is based on a sheet in the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin (Rosenberg and Prat 182), at the right side of the page. Again, the drawing shows her without a dog. The central study, executed in red chalk, is of a seated female huntress and was executed first; the two further studies of the girl were added at a later date in black and white chalk. As elsewhere in his oeuvre, Watteau cleverly utilized the blank space on the relatively empty page to accommodate these additional figures. In 1984 Rosenberg accepted the sheet in Berlin, but in 1996 he and Prat claimed that the two girls were spurious additions, copied from engravings in the Figures de différents caractères. This suspicion seems unnecessary. The spirited draftsmanship exceeds what one could expect from a copyist. Consider, for example, the skirt of the seated child: in the engraving it is a bit fussy but in the Berlin drawing it is strong and decisive. Moreover, the two studies of the girl appear in the same direction as in the painting and not in reverse, as they would be if they had been copied from the prints. Certainly the mise-en-page of the Berlin sheet accords perfectly with Watteau’s sensibility.
The guitarist at the center of the painting is an unusual combination of two related drawings. The major aspects of his face, hands, and beret were taken from a sheet in the British Museum (Rosenberg and Prat 479) but details of his costume—such as the slit sleeves—derive from an additional study in Rouen (Rosenberg and Prat 591).
One of four studies from a well-known sheet in the Forsyth Wickes collection was used for the head and upper torso of the principal woman in Récréation galante (Rosenberg and Prat 522). The correspondence is exact. There may have been a second study that Watteau used for the lower portion of her body. Although some models have been proposed (e.g., Rosenberg and Prat 328), a more precise source has not been located.
A major source of inspiration for Watteau’s composition is a sheet with four studies of a man with a cape, now in the Louvre (Rosenberg and Prat 504). The study at the left of the sheet—the man kneeling—was used for the man to the right of center in the painting. Whereas his extended arm in the drawing makes little sense, in the painting he is believably reaching out to a companion in an expressive, perhaps overly passionate way. The man toward the center of the drawing who raises a foot as though mounting a step was placed at the far right of the painting, and his extended arm and hand now brace the hand of his companion who is also mounting the step. Lastly, the man at the far right of the drawing was inserted farther back in the painting, in the middle ground. Together with his female companion, they seem to be walking away from the terrace. That the artist was able to take these four studies from a single sheet and turn them into a meaningful ensemble displays his economical means of working and delight in such ingenuity. Although he normally did not plan much in advance, especially when working from the live model, he brought this off like a skilled magician.
The woman at the right of the canvas, helped by her gallant companion, steps up onto the terrace. She was based upon a figure study now in Copenhagen (Rosenberg and Prat 383). That study, however, is skimpy, more an investigation of her drapery than of the whole model. As only the main lines of her costume were painted onto the canvas, this affords us a unique opportunity to see how the artist first transferred the essence of his drawing to his painting and then added local color in subsequent stages.
One last sheet to be associated with Récréation galante is a wonderful study of a seated woman and a miscellany of unrelated hands (Rosenberg and Prat 526). The hand holding a fan in the lower right corner of this sheet was selected for the woman at the center of Récréation galante. This sheet is of particular interest because it contains not only this study for the woman with a fan—a figure that does not appear in Assemblée galante—but also contains at the full study of a seated woman seen from behind; she appears in Assemblée galante but not in Récréation galante. This suggests that the artist may have been working on both pictures at approximately the same time.
Undoubtedly Watteau employed still other drawings for Récréation galante but these have not survived. For example, there would have been a drawing for the Sarazin sculpture of a goat and putti that figures prominently at the right side of the Berlin picture. Several extant Watteau drawings record the same sculptural group (Rosenberg and Prat 418, 428, and 429). However, the specific study that Watteau used for Récréation galante, one that showed the sculpture at the very same angle seen in the painting, has not survived.
Because the Berlin painting was not engraved, it did not receive an “official” title from Jean de Jullienne. The name by which it became traditionally known—L’Assemblée galante—is also the title assigned to a similar and well-known painting recorded in the Jullienne Oeuvre gravé. Not surprisingly, a certain confusion arose in distinguishing one from the other. In 1984, Rosenberg sought to resolve the problem by renaming the Berlin painting Récréation galante. This change of title has since been adopted by most scholars, including Temperini, Glorieux, Vogtherr, and Holmes.
Many of the figures in the Berlin painting appear in other Watteau pictures due to the way the artist worked, repeating individual figures and even clusters of them. However, a very different situation governs the relation of Récréation galante to L’Assemblée galante, a painting that originally belonged to the comtesse de Verrue. Her painting was only a third the size of the one in Berlin (37.1 x 51.6 cm versus 114.5 x 167.2 cm). This parallels other such instance from the latter part of Watteau’s career; for example, he created the large-scale Divertissements champêtres and the much smaller Les Champs Elisées, both now in the Wallace Collection. In both sets the smaller version appears to have been painted second. Likewise, Bon voyage is a reduced version of the Berlin Pèlerinage. So too, La Game d’amour is to be understood as a smaller variant after Assemblée galante and Récréation galante. However, nothing is certain about which version was executed first. A notable aspect of the Berlin painting is that it is unfinished in parts, especially the figures in the right foreground. Would the artist have left it unfinished, intending to complete it later, and then gone on to paint a smaller, wholly resolved second version? Given Watteau’s temperament, one cannot presume that he followed an orderly course.
Watteau scholars agree that Récréation galante was painted late in the artist’s career, but are not in agreement regarding a more specific date. ]Roland Michel chose 1717; Adhémar, Macchia and Montagni, Rosenberg preferred 1717-18. Others have dated it still slightly later. Vogtherr suggested 1717-19. Posner proposed that it was begun in 1718 and left unfinished at the time of the artist’s death. Börsch-Supan assigned the painting to 1720.
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