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Work Kneeling male nude lifting a drapery

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

Homme nu, agenouillé, soulevant une draperie

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Boyer Sarah

This drawing was a preparatory study for the satyr in the painting Nymph and Satyr, also known as Jupiter and Antiope (MI 1129). It is typical of Watteau's work. In terms of style, it is very close to the figure of Autumn in the Seasons painted for Pierre Crozat. The three colors are skillfully juxtaposed to create a sense of plenitude that is without parallel in his oeuvre. The study dates from late 1715 or early 1716 and demonstrates Watteau's perfect mastery of both drawing and painting.

Painstaking preparations

Watteau produced a second study of this satyr, now in the Fondation Custodia, Paris, sketched from a live model. This second study is very different in that the execution is less detailed and the model is positioned closer to the ground and reaching further to the left, exaggerating the movement. In the painting dated 1715, Watteau brings together the more dramatic movement of the second study and the details of the muscles and the facial expression of the study in the Louvre. The model's pose is inspired by Van Dyck's Jupiter and Antiope (Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent). The satyr in this study is reminiscent of Van Dyck's Jupiter, despite the rather baroque arabesques and the powerfully bunched muscles. In the second study, Watteau distances himself from Van Dyck's example, placing the face of the satyr further from his arm. The rather brusque gesture, taking the movement in two opposite directions, is typical of figures posed by Watteau towards the end of his career, although the movement is generally more graceful and subtle than in this instance.

From the Venetians to Van Dyck

Watteau's paintings for Pierre Crozat reveal the influence of Venetian artists, in the atmosphere of the landscapes, the themes, the warm colors, and the importance accorded to the nudes. This drawing is also reminiscent of a study of a live model by Van Dyck, now in the Courtauld Institute in London, in preparation for a man mocking Christ in his painting of Christ Carrying the Cross, now in the Church of Saint Paul in Antwerp. This study shows a man pulling a rope, his left arm braced against his thigh and his right arm outstretched. Watteau was very interested in Van Dyck's work and probably used this drawing to prepare his own study. The innovation, originality, realism, modernity, and autonomy of Watteau's figures were praised by Mariette in the Abecedario: "Each figure drawn by the hand of this excellent man has so true and so natural a character that by itself, it can capture all our attention and has no need of being borne by the composition of a broader subject."

Three colors

The most innovative aspect of the work was the use of three colors-although it should be noted that some doubts have been raised as to whether the white highlighting was the work of Watteau himself. Although Watteau did not invent the three-color technique-Rubens and La Fosse, among others, had already used it-he was the first to use the colors as a means of expression, a graphic code, whereby the dense, oily, fleshy lines of red chalk form a striking contrast with the baroque grandeur of the black and the austere classicism of the lines of the pen. The red chalk fleshes out the body, giving it tone and volume. Torn between the temptation to steal a glimpse beneath the sheet and the risk that will put him to flight, Watteau's satyr becomes an allegory of desire, which the artist subjugates to two characteristics of the Baroque-seizing the moment and the aesthetic of the arabesque. The figure represents the essence of the action-the moment when the body, hidden by the sheet, is revealed.


M. M. Grasselli, in Watteau 1684-1721, cat. exp. Washington, National Gallery of Art, 17 juin - 23 septembre 1984 ; Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 23 octobre 1984 - 28 juin 1985 ; Berlin, Charlottenburg, 22 février - 26 mai 1985, pp. 183-184, n 105.
F. Moureau, M. M. Grasselli, Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) : le peintre, son temps et sa légende, colloque international, Paris, Grand Palais, 1984, Genève Paris, Éditions Clairefontaine, 1987.
P. Rosenberg, L.-A. Prat, Antoine Watteau 1684-1721 : catalogue raisonné des dessins, Milan, Leonardo arte, 1996, pp. 1014-1015, n 596.
J. A. Plax, Watteau and the cultural politics of eighteenth-century France, Cambridge ; New York ; Melbourne [etc.], Cambridge University Press, 2000.
M. Vidal, Watteau's painted conversations : art, literature, and talk in seventeenth-and eighteenth-centuries France, Londres, New Haven, Yale university press, 1992.
P. Rosenberg, Des Dessins de Watteau, Tokyo, Chuo-koron Bijutsu shuppan, 1995.
P. Rosenberg, Watteau et son cercle dans les collections de l'Institut de France, cat. exp. Chantilly, Musée Condé, 3 octobre 1996 - 6 janvier 1997.
A. Wintermute, C. B. Bailey, P. Rosenberg, Watteau and his world : French drawing from 1700 to 1750, cat. exp. New York, Frick collection, 19 octobre 1999 - 9 janvier 2000 ; Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, 11 février - 8 mai 2000.
R. Temperini, Watteau, Paris, Éditions Gallimard, 2002.
C. B. Bailey, P. Conisbee, T. W. Gaehtgens, Au temps de Watteau, Chardin et Fragonard, cat. exp. Ottawa, musée des Beaux-Arts du Canada, 6 juin - 7 septembre 2003 ; Washington, National Gallery of Art, 13 octobre 2003 - 11 janvier 2004 ; Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, 8 février - 9 mai 2004.

Technical description

  • Antoine Watteau (Valenciennes, 1684-Nogent-sur-Marne, 1721)

    Kneeling male nude lifting a drapery

    c. 1715-16

    Gabriel Huquier collection; Saint-Morys collection; confiscated from émigrés, 1793

  • Black chalk, red chalk, and white highlights on beige paper

    H. 24.5 cm; L. 29.8 cm

  • Allocated to the museum, 1796-97

    INV 33360

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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