Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Paintings

The Italian Comedians Go on View in Elegant Company

J. Paul Getty Museum gallery teachers with Antoine Watteau's newly installed The Italian Comedians

A first look: Gallery teachers study Watteau's newly installed The Italian Comedians in preparation for introducing visitors to the painting on gallery tours.

The Getty Museum’s most recent painting acquisition, Jean-Antoine Watteau’s The Italian Comedians, is now on view at the Getty Center. It’s installed in Gallery S202 with an array of other 18th-century paintings in the collection, including one by Nicolas Lancret.

Watteau and Lancret were both known for the fête galante, a popular genre of French painting that depicted the outdoor leisure activities of the rich—picnicking, dancing, taking in performances. Watteau popularized this theme, and it may have been his fame as a painter of fêtes galantes that inspired Lancret to join the workshop of Watteau’s teacher Claude Gillot. Lancret probably met Watteau himself around 1712. After Watteau’s early death at the age of 36, Lancret became France’s leading painter of the genre.

These two artists, students of the same master, are now represented by two paintings hanging across from one another in the same gallery. Watteau’s The Italian Comedians and Lancret’s Dance Before a Fountain from about ten years later show two very different views of a day at the park for France’s upper crust.

Antoine Watteau's The Italian Comedians as installed in Gallery S202 at the Getty Center

The Italian Comedians, Antoine Watteau, about 1720. Oil on canvas, 50 3/4 x 36 3/4 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2012.5

Dance Before a Fountain / Nicolas Lancret

Another view of a day at the park: Dance Before a Fountain, Nicolas Lancret, about 1730–1735. Oil on canvas, 37 13/16 x 54 5/16 in. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2001.54

Lancret paints the well-to-do audience at their leisure, dancing by a fountain, cooing in couples, and generally enjoying an amorous day in the park. Even the dogs appear to be in love.

Dogs of the French elite in Nicolas Lancret's painting Dance Before a Fountain

Delicately amorous dogs of the French elite in Lancret's Dance Before a Fountain

Watteau presents a compassionately rendered troupe of actors who have just finished performing in the park for an upper-class audience like Lancret’s. The central figure, an actor dressed as the popular character Pierrot, reaches into his pocket, urging the ladies and gents in Lancret’s scene to reach into their pockets and make a donation.

Detail of the Italian Comedians / Watteau

Please, mesdames et messieurs, a donation for the performers?

Watteau's Italian Comedians in Gallery 202 of the Getty Center's South Pavilion

Watteau's Italian Comedians anchors one wall of Gallery 202 of the Getty Center's South Pavilion.

Lancret's Dance Before a Fountain in Gallery 202 of the Getty Center's South Pavilion

Lancret's Dance Before a Fountain faces the Watteau across the long gallery.

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      #ProvenancePeek: July 31

      Every art object has a story—not only of how it was made, but of how it changed hands over time until it found its current home. That story is provenance.

      This small panel by Dutch master Gerrit Dou (photographed only in black and white) is now in the collection of the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. It was sold to American collector Robert Sterling Clark, an heir to the Singer sewing machine fortune, in the summer of 1922.

      How do we know this? Archival sleuthing! A peek into the handwritten stock books of M. Knoedler & Co. (book 7, page 10, row 40, to be exact) records the Dou in “July 1922” (right page, margin). Turning to the sales books, which lists dates and prices, we again find the painting under the heading “New York July 1922,” with its inventory number 14892. A tiny “31” in superscript above Clark’s name indicates the date the sale was recorded.

      M. Knoedler was one of the most influential dealers in the history of art, selling European paintings to collectors whose collections formed the genesis of great U.S. museums. The Knoedler stock books have recently been digitized and transformed into a searchable database, which anyone can query for free.

      Girl at a Window, 1623–75, Gerrit Dou. Oil on panel, 10 9/16 x 7 ½ in. Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Massachusetts

      #ProvenancePeek is a monthly series by research assistant Kelly Davis peeking into #onthisday provenance finds from the M. Knoedler & Co. archives at the Getty Research Institute.


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