Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721)
Recruits Going to Join the Regiment, ca. 1715
Etching with dry point, first state of three
8 7/8 × 13 7/16 in. (22.6 x 34.2 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Purchase; Gift of Dr. Mortimer Sackler, Theresa Sackler and Family, and The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 2006
Executed with a nervous, almost electric line, this scene of marching soldiers is a rare etching by Watteau after a now-lost painting. Watteau constructed the composition out of a series of studies (two of which are on view on either side of the etching) showing a soldier in three poses. He extracted individual figures and combined them in pairs along a graceful arabesque. The result makes little sense as a march — with the soldiers’ counterposed balletic movements, their procession would soon break apart — but the lack of connection between the pairs of soldiers, almost mirror images of each other, infuses the work with formal and psychological tension. The plate was later reworked by the engraver Henri-Simon Thomassin the Younger (1687–1741).