X. Nude Woman Lying Near a Naked Youth
Entered April 2019
Berlin, collection of Frederick II [Frederick the Great] (1712-1786; king of Prussia).
Börsch-Supan, “Frederick the Great and Watteau” (1984), 553.
Vogtherr, Französische Gemälde (2011), cat. A2.
Börsch-Supan was the first to single out this painting, which was described in a letter from Minister von Horch to Johann Georg Ritter von Zimmerman (1728-1795), Frederick the Great’s last physician: “In the second room from the large mess hall for officers of the palace guard at Potsdam, I saw in the year 1747 a small painting by Vatteau that was the strongest of its kind I had ever seen. It was a completely nude woman lying stretched out near a naked youth. The picture was especially beautiful.” The painting was not listed in Osterreich’s 1773 catalogue of the German royal collection, nor does it appear in any later sources.
Börsch-Supan theorized that the painting seen in 1747 was possibly the panel now in the Norton Simon Collection, Watteau’s Femme nue et couchée, and this hypothesis was seconded by Vogtherr. However, that cannot be. Not only does the Norton Simon painting lack the second youth (and x-rays of the background establish that there are no figures under the black background). Moreover, as we now know, the Norton Simon painting was still in Paris in 1742, in the collection of baron de Thiers.
The sensuous, if not sexual pairing of a nude woman and a nude man in a bed is a rare subject. Moreover, if actually by Watteau, it would be a singular instance within his established oeuvre. On the other hand, it could have been painted by Jean-Baptiste Pater or Antoine Pesne, both of whom were open to such risqué subjects.