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Work Pierrot, formerly known as Gilles

Department of Paintings: French painting

Pierrot, formerly known as Gilles

© 2007 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

French painting

Vincent Pomarède

This portrait of a poetic, dreamy Pierrot is an exceptionally large painting for Watteau. It may have been a sign for a café belonging to a former actor by the name of Belloni. The stock Commedia dell’Arte characters in the lower part of the painting give it an enigmatic air.

A sad clown

The easy fluidity of the brushwork and the bright colors make this work a real masterpiece. It has often been seen as a self-portrait in which the artist portrays himself as a sad clown. It has proved very difficult to determine whether the figure of Pierrot is a portrait taken from life—perhaps one of Watteau’s friends or a well-known actor—or an allegory drawn from the artist’s imagination. The work draws its dramatic power from the moment of stasis in the action, the heavy immobility of the central character, and the viewpoint chosen by the artist, looking up at Pierrot from below.

The Italian Comedy

This painting was formerly known by the title Gilles, but nowadays the title Pierrot is preferred as being closer to the theme of the work. In fact, the subject is far from clear. Is it a theatrical sign for a café or a fairground show? Was the work commissioned or did the artist paint it simply for pleasure? The character of Pierrot takes up almost the entire painting, standing out against the sky, while the characters from the Commedia dell’Arte are painted in half-length, hidden behind foliage. Four stock characters can be identified—the doctor on his donkey, the lovers Leandro and Isabella, and the captain.

The Louis La Caze donation

The work belonged to Dominique Vivant Denon, director of the Napoleon Museum during the First Empire, before it was acquired by Dr. Louis La Caze, a keen collector of 18th-century art. Louis La Caze bequeathed his artworks to the Louvre in 1869, and they form the basis of the museum’s collection of 18th-century French painting.

Technical description

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

    Pierrot, formerly known as Gilles

    about 1718-19

  • H. 1.85 m; W. 1.50 m

  • Bequest of Dr. Louis La Caze, 1869 , 1869

    M.I. 1121

  • Paintings

    Sully wing
    2nd floor
    Room 917

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