Watteau and Jullienne: Early Modern Art and Patronage at the Wallace Collection

June 29, 2011
This year London has been the host of a remarkable trio of exhibitions, each accompanied by catalogs, talks, and workshops, dedicated to the 18th century French artist Antoine Watteau. Running from March 12th to June 5th, the double exhibition of the Wallace Collection, titled Esprit et Vérité: Watteau and His Circle, featured a selection of Watteau canvases from the collection of the British institution in the West Gallery of the Hertford House, as well as a selection of masterpieces from the collection of Jean de Jullienne, Watteau’s friend and patron, on the ground floor at the same location.

Having drawn his inspiration from the realm of theater and commedia dell’arte, Watteau (1684-1721) developed a unique style in painting, for which the French Academy of Arts created a special category: the fête galante. The Wallace exhibition illustrates the evolution of the artist’s style, showing his early works together with some of the most sophisticated later compositions of fêtes galantes. Although Watteau died young of tuberculosis, his art had a significant impact on generations of artists, mostly due to his friend, Jean de Jullienne (1686-1766). An important art collector of the time, Pierre Jean Mariette, explained that Watteau discouraged Jullienne from pursuing an artistic career: “dans sa jeunesse, on avoit voulu en faire un peintre. Watteau, son amy, l’en dissuada, et luy rendit un grand service [in his youth, he wanted to become a painter. Watteau, his friend, persuaded him not to, and granted him a great service].”[i]

Jullienne nevertheless became a prominent figure in the arts scene, as patron and amateur engraver. By collecting tens of Watteau’s paintings and hundreds of his drawings, Jullienne developed one of the most important Watteau collections of the time. Furthermore, Jullienne started a remarkable enterprise of engraving Watteau’s entire oeuvre, employing numerous engravers and obtaining royal privileges for the printing and distribution of the copies. The result of the project was the Recueil Jullienne, a unique compendium that remains one of the most important scholarly sources on Watteau, besides the artistic merits of the prints. As works of art, the engravings and the etchings of the Recueil alter Watteau’s originals in various ways, reflecting Jullienne’s interpretation of the artist’s oeuvre. One of the most innovative aspects of the Recueil was the inclusion of print reproductions after both drawings and paintings, thereby working against the contemporary prejudice that drawing is only preparatory—and thus inferior to painting as a medium.

At the same time of the  Wallace Collection double exhibition the Royal Academy of Arts in London organized an exhibition of drawings by Watteau in the Sackler Wing of the galleries. As the Wallace Collection underlined in its press release, the double exhibition Esprit et Vérité “complements Watteau’s Drawings: Virtuosity and Delight at the Royal Academy of Arts.”[ii] In the opinion of Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, Professor of Fine Arts in the Department of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard, “the conjunction of the Watteau drawings show and the paintings exhibit at the Wallace made one realize how fantastic, definitely productive it would be to have an exhibition combining the two modes of the artist’s work.” [iii] Watteau related his drawing and painting in a highly personal technique, transferring elements from one medium to the other. For instance, he would insert figures from the same drawing in several painted compositions and draw in a painterly manner. He is well known for the three crayons technique; the artist would use red chalk, black pencil, and white chalk on the same paper. The delicate aspect of the white chalk over the more dramatic use of red chalk and black pencil creates a complex texture and a poetical atmosphere in Watteau’s drawings. Some of the figures drawn in this technique are also present in the artist’s canvases. This technical particularity of the artist’s oeuvre and mode of working served as a significant connection between the exhibitions of the two London institutions.

The exhibitions of the Wallace Collection, free and open to the public, were contextualized in a series of talks and workshops, led by the curator of the exhibition and the appointed new Director of the Wallace Collection, Dr. Christoph Martin Vogtherr. The events included lectures on Jean de Jullienne as collector and connoisseur, on Antoine Watteau and his oeuvre in the Wallace Collection, and on their friendship and collaboration, as well as drawing workshops in the manner of Watteau. Two beautifully illustrated catalogs accompanied the double exhibition: one on Watteau by Dr. Vogtherr and one on the collection of Jean de Jullienne, coordinated by Dr. Vogtherr in collaboration with Jennifer Tonkovich, Curator at the Morgan Library and Museum (New York), Andreas Henning, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen (Dresden), Léonie Marquaille (Paris), and Xavier Solomon, Dulwich Picture Gallery (London).

The main purpose of the exhibitions was to “provide an opportunity to present new research on the Wallace Collection’s Watteau paintings and view them in the context of more recent developments in Watteau studies.”[iv] According to Dr. Vogtherr, this interest in staging exhibitions around works from the institution’s own collection is a guiding principle of the Wallace Collection. [v] Together with the paintings there on loan from other institutions, the show made it possible to look at Watteau’s oeuvre in an analytical manner and to draw interesting parallels among the artist’s favorite themes and periods of artistic development. For example, Professor Lajer-Burcharth found the ability to compare differently sized renderings of the same subject “most instructive.”[vi] The exhibitions combined two of the Wallace Collection’s main curatorial interests: the focus on French art, and the notion of art collecting and the history of collections (an emphasis explored by the institution in its previous displays of other collectors and collections).[vii] The exhibitions created a dialogue between the oeuvre of Watteau and the collection and cultural activity of Jullienne, thereby highlighting their relationship as central to the flourishing of arts patronage and dissemination in the 18th century. Dr. Vogtherr notes that a central aim of the exhibition has been to show how collecting history and practices can talk to the art of a certain period.[viii]

My incentive to visit the Wallace exhibitions was my undergraduate honors thesis at Harvard, which focused on the special relation between authorship and collecting in the previously described compendium of prints, known as the Recueil Jullienne. In my view, the Recueil has an aspect that speaks to modern and contemporary notions of the author: the complex ways in which Julienne’s supervision is made visible in the compendium. His name is never shouted and yet the project is always referred to in connection to his agency. Thereby, as collector and engraver, Jullienne mirrors Watteau in a re-creative process. In line with this argument, the double exhibition at the Wallace Collection magisterially illustrates how collecting is intimately connected to the cultural production of a particular artist and period. The selection from the corpus of works by Watteau, on the one hand, and the selected works from the corpus of Jullienne’s collection, on the other hand, traced a parallel between an artist’s oeuvre and a patron’s collection.

Some of the highlights of the exhibitions were the works by Rembrandt, Claude-JosephVernet, and Greuze which belonged to Jullienne’s collection, and some of the most representative fêtes galantes of Watteau, such as Les Champs Elysées and Voulez-vous triompher les belles?. In the exhibition, the inclusion of pieces by Old Masters (like the 17th century painting of Rembrandt) together with paintings by Jullienne’s contemporaries (like the 18th century work of Vernet) is emblematic of Jullienne’s collecting interests and practices. As Dr. Vogtherr explained, the show created a stylistic and thematic cross-section of the collection of Jullienne, by showing his main areas of interest and combining old and contemporaneous art objects on the same wall. Also, the exhibition creates an instructive juxtaposition of Rembrandt’s work, such as The Good Samaritan (1630), and Watteau’s canvases, depicting figures in fashionable costumes, all from Jullienne’s collection, thereby highlighting the transition from 17th century religious and mythological scenes to the early 18th century focus on the reality of contemporaneous society.

The curatorial choices in the Jullienne exhibition of Esprit et Vérité were guided by the Album Jullienne from the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, one of the key works in the show. One of the walls in the 1st room of the Jullienne exhibition was a blown-up version of one of the watercolors in the Album, which depicts the arrangement and display of Jullienne’s collection in his house in the Gobelins neighborhood of Paris.  Jullienne’s cousin and legatee François de Montullé compiled the compendium in the 1750s, during Jullienne’s lifetime. Its watercolors present the plans of his apartments in Paris, 42 plates showing elevations of the walls in the apartments and in the cabinets, as well as a list of 367 paintings and drawings from Jullienne’s collection.[ix] Lent to the Wallace Collection and exhibited for the first time, the Album would have benefited from a greater visibility and prominence as an object.

If the exhibition had underlined more the personal and professional relation of each of the paintings to their collector, the personality of Jullienne and his role in the 18th century art world would have been even better articulated. Although the exhibitions were conceived as a cross-section of Watteau’s corpus of paintings and of Jullienne’s collection, as well as a slice of material expression of their friendship and collaboration, I join the captivated visitors who would have wanted to see more objects on display.

This inspiring double exhibition of the Wallace Collection belongs to a series of cultural events dedicated to Watteau and showing an increased interest in the activity of Jullienne (see the concomitant drawings exhibition at the Royal Academy in London and the excellent 2010 exhibition on the Recueil Jullienne at the Louvre in Paris). Taking a closer look at the fête galante and at the practices of collecting and display in the 18th century works against the stereotypical readings of the art of that time as frivolous or mannerist and recontextualizes it as a cultural response to the contemporaneous sociopolitical context of commoditization and privatization. After having seen the show, I hope this “Watteau year” continues in its scholarly re-evaluation of the early modern notions of authorship, collecting, and artistic collaboration, for which the relation between Watteau and Jullienne is a perfect starting point.

Sonia Coman ’11 is a recent graduate in History of Art and Architecture from Harvard and a 1st year PhD student in Art History at Columbia.

[i] Ph. de Chennevières and A. de Montaiglon, eds, Abecedario de Pierre Jean Mariette(Paris: J.-B. Dumoulin, 1851-1860), vol. III, 15

[ii] The Wallace Collection, Esprit et Verité: Watteau and His Circle, Press Release, retrieved on 05/31/2011 at URL http://www.wallacecollection.org/collections/exhibition/90, p. 1

[iii] Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, personal communication, 06/13/2011.

[iv] The Wallace Collection, Esprit et Verité: Watteau and His Circle, Press Release, retrieved on 05/31/2011 at URL http://www.wallacecollection.org/collections/exhibition/90, p. 2

[v] Christoph Martin Vogtherr, telephone interview, 06/08/2011.

[vi] Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, personal communication, 06/13/2011.

[vii] Christoph Martin Vogtherr, telephone interview, 06/08/2011

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Frederick Adams, Ed., Fifteenth Report to the Fellows of the Pierpont Morgan Library, 1967 & 1968 (New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, 1969), 111.


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