Some Watteau detective work

L'Escorte d'équipage, engraving

L’Escorte d’équipage, engraving after Watteau by Laurent Cars
Image via Éstampes Martinez

After Watteau’s death in 1721 his friend Jean de Julienne began to systematically acquire as many of the artist’s paintings as possible for the purposes of compiling a complete catalogue in the form of engraved reproductions of Watteau’s work. This was published in 1735 as the Recueil Julienne and it included the above engraving by Laurent Cars. The painting it represents disappeared from view for more than two centuries before it emerged from a private collection and was offered for auction at Christie’s New York in 2009.
L'Escorte d'équipage, c. 1715

L’Escorte d’équipage, painting by Antoine Watteau c. 1715
Image via Invaluable

While searching for more of Watteau’s images of military subjects the present author encountered the following painting, known as Soldiers on the March, and displayed as the work of Watteau on several websites including Wikimedia Commons and Sifting the Past. An astute commenter at the latter site had noticed that the group of figures at the right of this painting closely matches the group in the corresponding area of Cars’ engraving. Now, as the engraving is flipped left to right relative to Watteau’s original, and the group of figures in Soldiers on the March has the same orientation, there is good reason to believe that this painting is copied in part from Cars and is therefore not by Watteau. Tracing Soldiers on the March to its home in London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery proves that this is indeed the case. The painting is an anonymous composite made up of elements copied from engravings of two Watteau paintings, L’Escorte d’équipage and Retour de campagne. The latter painting is considered lost and is known only from the reproduction by Charles Nicholas Cochin, though it is always possible that it too will be rediscovered. This kind of imitation of a famous artist’s style and subjects, whether for purposes of homage or deception, was very common in the past and has led to many artworks being misattributed, a problem exacerbated by the ease with which false information can be unwittingly disseminated on the internet. For what it’s worth, I was suspicious of this painting at first sight: it’s simply not up to Watteau’s standard. It is gratifying to find that one’s eye is good, and the research was enjoyable too.

Soldiers on the March

Soldiers on the March, painting after Antoine Watteau, 18th Century
Dulwich Picture Gallery, London

Retour de campagne (gravure apres Watteau)

Retour de campagne, engraving after Watteau by Charles Nicolas Cochin
Image via Éstampes Martinez

L'Escorte d'équipage, c. 1715 (detail)

Detail from Watteau’s painting

L'Escorte d'équipage, engraving (detail)

The same figures in the engraving by Cars

Soldiers on the March (detail)

The copy copied in Soldiers on the March
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