The Getty Purchases a Controversial Watteau

15/3/12 - Acquisition - Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum - The Getty Museum has recently purchased [1] as fully acknowledged by Antoine Watteau, a painting (ill. 1) previously found in the Paul-Louis Weiller collection which had been auctioned at the Hôtel Drouot on 5 April 2011 at Gros-Delettrez under a cautious attribution of "French school around 1720, circle of Antoine Watteau" (catalogue description), finally transformed into "Antoine Watteau and a close follower" (ill. 2) when sold. Well-known since the early 20th century, it had been sold in 1774, from the Comte du Barry collection, as a Watteau, but attributed to Pater during the 19th century, then back again to Watteau in the early 20th, before being sold in Paris on 29 November 1976 as being by Philippe Mercier. More recently, the attribution to Pater had returned, with the theory that he had worked after Watteau’s drawings. A sheet by the master, representing the central figure, Pierrot, is held at the Teyler Museum ; his head is leaning downward, but an x-ray of the painting shows that it had first been painted exactly in this attitude.

1. Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)
The Italian Comedians
After restoration
Oil on Canvas - 128 x 92 cm
Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum
Photo : The J. Paul Getty Museum

2. Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)
The Italian Comedians
Before restoration at the auction in Paris on 5/4/11
Oil on Canvas - 128 x 92 cm
Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum
Photo : Gros-Delettrez

In its press release, the American museum does not attempt to conceal these fluctuations in attribution : while admitting that art specialists do not unanimously agree on it, Scott Schaefer, chief curator for paintings, adds : "We believe that the only artist able to rise to this level of accomplishment was Antoine Watteau, and that he executed the entire painting".
It is true that the work had caused quite a sensation in the small world of dealers and art historians when it resurfaced last year. Some had not hesitated to pronounce the venerable name. However, most thought that, at best, the artist had painted only the Pierrot, perhaps even just the face. The price of the canvas, 1,305,000€ including charges, a far cry from the initial estimate of 40 to 60,000€, was the final convincing argument that at least two bidders thought this was an authentic Watteau.

A dangerous, but ultimately, sure bet since the Getty was finally convinced the attribution was correct. Indeed, the painting is of very high quality.

Version française

Didier Rykner, vendredi 16 mars 2012


[1] At Hazlitt Gooden and Fox in London.

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