Les Amusements champêtres
Entered April 2015; revised September 2015
New York, private collection
Oil on canvas
31.7 x 45.2 cm
The painting was engraved by Benoît Audran in 1727 and was announced for sale in the December 1727 issue of the Mercure de France (p. 2677).
Paris, collection of Jean de Jullienne. His ownership of the painting was indicated on the third and fourth states of Benoît Audran’s engraving of 1727: “du Cabinet de Mr Dejullienne.” Jullienne’s ownership is reiterated by Mariette, "Notes manuscrites," 9, fol. 194 (67). Jullienne evidently sold the painting in the next decades. The picture was not included in the illustrated manuscript inventory of his collection prepared c. 1756, and now in the Morgan Library & Museum, New York.
Paris, collection of Jean-Baptiste Pierre Lebrun (1748-1813). His sale, Paris, April 11, 1791, lot 199: “ANTOINE WATTEAU . . . L’Intérieure d’un jardin, composition de six figures, où l’on voit deux hommes qui présentent des fleurs à des femmes. Plus loin, deux enfans sont assis sur l’herbe, tenant des fleurs. Un lointain ouvert et plusieurs arbres, terminent ce précieux tableau qui est de la plus belle couleur, et de la touché la plus spirituelle. — Hauteur, 11 pouces 3 lignes; largeur, 15 pouces et demi. B.” It supposedly sold for 260 livres according to an annotated copy in the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Dokumentatie. According to Rosenberg, the painting was bought by “D’avenpart,” actually John Davenport (d. 1800; painting dealer). Lebrun’s claim that the painting was on panel is erroneous.
Paris, sale, February 13ff, 1792, lot 26: “PAR LE MÊME [ANT. WATTEAU] . . . Un tableau gravé sous le titre des Amusemens Champêtres. On y compte six figures d’Hommes & de Femmes, & deux Enfans, dans un riant paysage. Haut. 17 p. larg. 22. T.” It sold for 101 livres according to an annotated copy in the Frick Art Reference Library, New York.
Paris, collection of Théodore Patureau. His sale, Paris, April 20-21, 1857, lot 62: “WATTEAU (Antoine) . . . Amusements Champêtres . . . . A gauche d’un parc, dont la magnificence ne doit rien laisser à desirer, si l’on en juge par ce beau groupe mythologique qui le décore, deux jeune filles s’amusent à cueillir des fleurs, que l’une d’elles jette et reticent dans la jupe de sa robe de soie bleue.
Vers la droite, non loin de bosquets délicieux, est une charmante dame assise auprès d’un gentilhomme habillé en berger; elle porte avec toute la coquetterie du temps un corsage de soie à manches bleues, sur lequel est jetée une robe de soie rose; elle paraît regarder avec Bonheur son admirateur pendant qu’il lui attaché une couronne sur la tête.
Derrière ce groupe, sous les ombrages touffus et fleuris, un jeune seigneur laisse tomber des fleurs dans le tablier que lui tend en riant la jeune femme habillée en simple villageoise que se trouve debout près de lui.
La lumière est habiliment distribuée, et un paysage pittoresque, embelli par quelques habitations rustiques, s’étend au loin à l’horizon.
H. 30 cent. L. 45 cent. Bois.
Provenant de la collection de M. de JULLIENNE, Paris, 1767, et gravé par B. Audran, sous le titre de: Amusements champêtres; et du cabinet de M. Le Brun, Paris, 1791.”
Sold for 6,000 francs to “Rothschild” according to the annotated copies of the catalogue in the Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie and the Bibliothèque nationale, Paris. The latter copy of the catalogue is also annotated by a later hand: “puis Gustave de Rothschild / Robert de Rothschild.”
Paris, collection of baron Robert Philippe de Rothschild; by descent to Elie Robert de Rothschild (1917-2007); by descent to Nathaniel Rothschild.
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Schönheit des 18. Jahrhunderts, cat. 349 (as by Watteau, Ländliche Vergnügungen, lent by Baron Elie de Rothschild).
Washington, Paris, Berlin, Watteau 1684-1721 (1984), cat. P52 (as by Watteau, Country Amusements [Amusements champêtres], lent by a private collector).
Goncourt, L’Art au XVIIIème siècle (1860), 57.
Goncourt, Catalogue raisonné (1875), cat. 104.
Dacier, Vuaflart, and Hérold, Jean de Jullienne et les graveurs (1921-29), cat. 126.
Réau, “Watteau” (1928), cat. 160.
Adhémar, Watteau (1950), cat. 173.
Mathey, Watteau, peintures réapparues (1959), 69.
Mirimonde, “Statues et emblèmes” (1962), 14-15.
Montagni and Macchia, L’opera completa di Watteau (1968), cat. 189.
Roland Michel, Watteau (1984), 97, 107, 109, 229, 266.
Posner, Watteau (1984), 154.
Temperini, Watteau (2002), cat. 99.
Although Les Amusements champêtres is a mature work, and Watteau’s mature drawings seem to have survived in greater number than his early ones, there are surprisingly few extant drawings for the six principal figures in this painting.
There are two separate drawings for the couple at the right of the composition. The woman who holds her apron out was taken from a sheet in the British Museum (Rosenberg and Prat 545), while her male companion came from an unrelated study that shows the young man posed in three different positions, each with his arms extended and embracing Rosenberg and Prat 506).
It has been suggested that the head of the other woman was taken from a drawing showing two heads and a hand (Rosenberg and Prat 605). This would imply that Watteau utilized another study of perhaps a different woman for the remainder of her body and costume, perhaps one where the model was positioned more frontally, with her head not in profile.
Watteau relied on a drawing now lost but recorded in a counterproof in Bayonne (Rosenberg and Prat 560) for the child seen half-length, his hand to the side of his face.
A notable accent at the left side of Amusements champêtres is the sculptural group of children frolicking around and on a goat. This is not an imaginary sculpture but, rather, an image of a very real work, a group by the celebrated sculptor Jacques Sarazin. Although it was executed in several versions, Watteau probably knew the one owned by Jean de Jullienne. Two of Watteau’s drawings after this sculptural group survive (Rosenberg and Prat 428, 429). But the artist must have relied on yet another study since he painted the group seen from behind. In fact, in the upper right corner of the first of the two drawings he began another view of the sculpture—this seen from behind. That view has not come down to us. But even that view does not correspond to the one that Watteau depicted, thus implying that still more studies are lost.
In 1984 Margaret Morgan Grasselli was the first to recognize that a beautiful Watteau landscape drawing after Campagnola, now in Besançon (Rosenberg and Prat 430), provided the architecture for the buildings in the central portion of the painted landscape. It is one of two demonstrable instances where one of his paintings directly depended on his studies after the Venetian masters, although there are a large number of other paintings where this can be presumed to be the case.
Réau, followed by Adhémar and then by Macchia and Montagni, claimed that the painting passed through the hands of the dealer Jules Strauss before entering the Rothschild collection. This was refuted with good reason by Rosenberg at the time of the Watteau tercentenary exhibition in 1984.
From the middle of the nineteenth century onward, the picture remained hidden from public view once it entered the collection of baron Robert Rothschild. Edmond de Goncourt apparently did not know the actual painting, nor did Zimmerman. Except for its inclusion in the 1984 exhibition, it continues to be sequestered.
In accord with the recent tendency to find allegory and hidden meaning in Watteau’s fêtes galantes, scholars have overlaid this painting with a complex narrative. Mirimonde, one of the first critics to seek out clues to hidden meanings, interpreted the presence of Sarazin’s sculpture as an indication of nascent love. Posner, ever prone to finding emblems of eroticism in Watteau’s compositions, followed Mirimonde in seeing the sculpture as an emblem of “dawning love and lust.” For him, “the bestowal of flowers” by the woman with flowers in her apron “needs no interpretation,“ implying that it is a sexual gesture. Likewise the boy at the right is interpreted as looking “lustfully” at the flowers in the girl’s apron, but as the children are too young for the eroticism enjoyed by the adults, the girl draws away from her suitor. Rosenberg closely followed Posner’s explanation of the narrative, and he also interpreted the painting as showing tension, as well as possessing erotic content and poetry. It seems inevitable that future scholars will be swayed by these twentieth-century readings and will interpret Watteau’s scene of country pleasures and gallantry as a narrative of sexual tension and libido. How very different was the description offered in the Patereau sale of 1857! While we perhaps cannot return to Jules and Edmond de Goncourt’s rapturous “L’amour est la lumière de ce monde,” must we see Watteau as suggesting lust among adults and children alike?
Critics have unanimously recognized this painting as a mature work. Mathey and Grasselli dated it to c. 1717-18, while Rosenberg preferred c. 1716-18.