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Studies of Three Women
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Jean-Antoine Watteau
French, about 1716 - 1717
Red, black, and white chalk
10 9/16 x 12 7/8 in.
86.GB.596

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It was [Jean-Antoine Watteau's] habit to make his drawings in a bound book, so that he always had a large supply of them at hand. When he was in the mood to paint a picture, he resorted to his collection of drawings and chose the figures most suited for the occasion.

Just as this early biographer described, Watteau made this drawing as a study of women's costumes and movement. The central figure later appeared in his painting, Embarkation for Cythera, a diploma piece that gained him membership in the Académie Royale in 1717; the right figure appeared in another painting.

Watteau may have first learned the three-colored chalk technique called trois crayons by studying Peter Paul Rubens's drawings. This example shows his mastery of the technique and of composition. Watteau achieved brilliant color effects not only through the sensitivity of his line but also by setting down each chalk separately, rather than mixing the three colors. Although each figure is a separate study, Watteau arranged the three elements to create a pleasing, balanced composition.