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Work "My friends, let us not refuse a clever guest"

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

Scène de la comédie italienne : une pantomime

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Boyer Sarah

In the middle of a feast, Pierrot at upper right, Pulcinella in the center, and Mezzetino on the left are startled to see the benches they are sitting on shoot into the air. The same device elevates the laden table as well. Scaramouch tumbles over as masked Harlequin threatens him with his torch. On the right, a woman looks back as she leaves. This farce, or "lazzo", was apparently inspired by a comedy performed at the Théâtre Italien in 1670, Arlequin, Esprit Follet.

Arlequin, Esprit Follet

Etched by Huquier with three other studies for the Livre de Scènes Comiques Inventées par Gillot, this drawing shows a scene from Act II of Arlequin, Esprit Follet. This anonymous play, attributed to Cinthio and performed in March 1670 by the Italian players at the Hôtel de Bourgogne, was later presented at the St. Germain fair. A second version of the etching, illustrating the same scene, was sold at Sotheby's (London, 30 June 1986). The comedy tells the story of Isabella, who wants to marry Octavio; her father will not agree to the marriage and promises her to Cinthio. Harlequin, a sprite conjured up to serve Octavio by a magician, tricks Octavio, his valet, and Isabella's father. When they go into a cabaret, Cinthio and his servant are faced with the sprite Harlequin, who says he will bring them "a table with glasses that rise into the air and dishes that run; there is a firecracker in the pie; the table runs off and the two seats do likewise".

On the fringe of reality

After the Comédie Italienne was closed down in 1697, the play was performed during the fairs held at St. Germain and St. Laurent. Fairground plays were very popular at the time and inspired Gillot. His characteristic pen and red chalk wash and lively hand have captured this scene from the commedia dell'arte. Gillot's technique is ideal for conjuring up the "piazzia", or madness, characteristic of the harlequinade. The low angle places the viewer at stage level. Corrections and sometimes squaring indicate that the drawing is not as unfinished as it first seems. Although Watteau and Lancret depicted players from the Comédie Italienne in a festive, bucolic setting, it was Gillot who emerged as the real artist of the Commedia dell'arte, readily using the subtle art of improvisation and sketching the players unawares.

A theater lover

Gillot is one of the artists at the end of Louis XIV's century for whom theater was more than just a subject - it becomes a sort of religion, taking the place of fables and the pious or secular tales of history painting. Far from being a speciality of the French school, however, such scenes had already been illustrated by Jacques Callot and Le Clerc. Gillot provides us with a snapshot of the theater, a real stage showing the players in action, the sets, and sometimes even the boards. His approach is distinct from that of his pupil Watteau, whose theater scenes are reconstructions based mainly on Italian comic types and do not refer to an actual performance. In 1712, Gillot, who had been admitted to the Académie two years earlier, was asked to supervise the sets, machinery, and costumes for the Paris Opera; only a few engravings of these ephemeral creations survive.


J.-F. Méjanès, in Dessins français du XVIIIe siècle de Watteau à Lemoyne, cat. exp. Paris, Musée du Louvre, 19 février-1er juin 1987, pp. 54-56, n 72.
S. Widauer, in Pierrot : Melancholie und Maske, cat. exp. Munich, Haus der Kunst, 15 septembre-3 décembre 1995, p. 186, n 18.
P. Choné, F. Moureau, P. Quettier, E. Varnier, Claude Gillot (1673-1722) : comédies, sabbats et autres sujets bizarres, cat. exp. Langres, Musée d'art et d'histoire, 2 juillet-27 septembre 1999, pp. 32-122.
A. Wintermute, C. B. Bailey, P. Rosenberg, Watteau and his world : French drawing from 1700 to 1750, cat. exp. New York, Frick collection, 19 octobre1999-9 janvier 2000 ; Ottawa, National Gallery of Canada, 11 février-8 mai 2000. pp. 204-205, n 57.

Technical description

  • Claude GILLOT (Langres, 1673-Paris, 1722)

    "My friends, let us not refuse a clever guest"

    Between 1697 and 1718

  • Pen, grey ink, red chalk wash over a light sketch in black chalk

    H. 16.1 cm; W. 21.8 cm

  • Pierre-Jean Mariette collection; sale, Paris, 15 November 1775, probably part of no.1259 or no.1260; purchased for the Royal collection.

    Scene from the commedia dell'arte: a pantomime

    INV 26748

  • Prints and Drawings

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

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