Jean-Antoine Watteau (Valenciennes 1684–1721 Nogent-sur-Marne)
Two Heads, an Arm, and Three Hands, ca. 1716
Black, red, and white chalk on beige laid paper
8 7/16 × 9 7/8 in. (214.3 × 250.8 mm)
Promised Gift from the Collection of Elizabeth and Jean-Marie Eveillard
Photo Joseph Coscia Jr.
Despite his short life, Watteau inspired generations of artists working in France under Louis XV. He is credited with inventing the fête galante, a genre of pastoral, dreamlike paintings of figures in contemporary French attire and theatrical costume shown in performance, at leisure, or engaged in amorous pursuits. Watteau drew avidly from live models, filling books with sketches to which he would return sometimes years later. He composed his fêtes galantes in part by combining motifs explored in his drawings, though he rarely replicated the drawings directly, instead treating them as points of departure to be modified according to the needs of a painted composition. On this sheet, using his characteristic trois-crayons technique, he studies in black, white, and red a man’s head from different angles, as well as hands engaged in various tasks. The individual elements relate to a number of his paintings, incorporated seamlessly into compositions with no hint of their origin as fragments in sheets like this.