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Jean-Antoine Watteau  (1684 - 1721)
The Portal of Valenciennes, 1709-10
Oil on canvas (lined)
12 3/4 x 16 in. (32.4 x 40.6 cm)
Framed: 18 11/16 × 21 5/8 in. (47.5 × 54.9 cm)
Purchased with funds from the bequest of Arthemise Redpath, 1991
Accession number: 1991.1.173
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North Hall (138)
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Commentary: The location depicted in this small painting appears to be outside the fortifications of Valenciennes, Watteau’s birthplace in northern France, where he returned for a visit in 1709. Soldiers are portrayed in the foreground, dozing or lounging in the early morning light. Abandoned on the ground beside them are such martial trappings as a drum and gun, guarded by a dog, asleep. A pike propped behind the drum leans against the wall, pointing to the French royal coat of arms. The unspoken creates a sense of mystery and hidden messages in this seemingly undramatic genre subject. Between 1709 and 1714, Watteau painted a series of military scenes, sights that were familiar to him, for his native countryside had long been a battleground. Far from glorifying military life, these works dwell on the peripheral incidents and activities of warfare. The subtle hues and warm light of this quiet picture, as well as the delicate touch of the artist’s brush in rendering the details of figures, costumes, and setting, look forward to the more familiar scenes of theater and romantic dalliance painted later in Watteau’s career.

Source: Art in The Frick Collection: Paintings, Sculpture, Decorative Arts, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1996.
Collections:

Théophile-Étienne-Joseph Thoré, Paris, probably after 1859. His sale (posthumous), Hôtel Drouot, Paris, December 5, 1892, Lot 39, sold for 2,250 francs. Jacques Doucet, Paris. His sale, Paris, June 6, 1912, Lot 192, repr., sold for 56,000 francs. Albert Lehmann, Paris. His sale, Paris, June 8, 1925, Lot 222, repr., sold for 96,000 francs. [By 1928] Otto Bemberg, Paris, 1961. Luis Bemberg and by descent. Sotheby’s, London, December 12, 1990, Lot 7, repr., sold for £530,000. Colnaghi, New York. Sold to the Frick Collection, February 15, 1991, purchased with funds from the bequest of Arthemise Redpath.


Source: The Frick Collection: Drawings, Prints & Later Acquisitions. Volume IX. New York: The Frick Collection, 2003.


Updated by the Curatorial Department in August 2009.