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JEAN-ANTOINE WATTEAU

Standing Male Figure (Nicolas Vleughels ?)

ca. 1718-19

Lead pencil and red chalk
Inv. No. 1040

29.1 × 18 cm

zur  Biographie

The Städel Museum possesses a small but significant group of drawings by Antoine Watteau. As an artistic medium characterized by immediacy and sensitivity, drawing played a particularly important role for the painter of the fêtes galantes, courteous encounters and subtle emotions. Watteau’s preferred technique was to draw in black or, even more frequently, red chalk, a medium which can be used to produce both lines and surfaces, both strong accents and delicate passages and, in conjunction with the natural tone of the paper, to create an effect akin to that of paintings. All of these elements are present in the masterly Standing Male Figure 1718-19.


Leaning against an object which is not shown, the man wears a plumed cap that belongs to a bygone age. A cloak is draped over his right shoulder and falls in dark folds – by contrast, its weighty forms emphasize the delicacy of the slightly down-turned face and the nervous hand. The drawing is a study from life, and the same figure features in the painting Les charmes de la vie (The Music Party) in the Wallace Collection in London. In that picture he is leaning on the backrest of a chair and listening to music. The similarity between the study and the finished painting suggests that the former was done specifically in preparation for the latter, and that in the man’s musing, distant expression Watteau was seeking to capture the experience of listening.

 

Special attention has been paid to the facial expression, lending this study the quality of a portrait. There is good reason to believe that the standing, hearkening gentleman is the painter Nicolas Vleughels (16681737), who was later to become the director of the Académie de France in Rome. He was a friend of Watteau’s and lived at the same address as the latter in Paris in the period around 171819. And it is there that this drawing was probably executed – as a study and, presumably, as a personal, individual portrait.


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