La Surprise

Object Details

Title:

La Surprise

Artist/Maker:

Jean-Antoine Watteau (French, 1684 - 1721)

Culture:

French

Place:

France (Place created)

Date:

1718–1719

Medium:

Oil on panel

Object Number:

2017.72

Dimensions:

36.4 × 28.2 cm (14 5/16 × 11 1/8 in.)

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In a verdant park at sunset, a young woman abandons herself to her tousle-haired companion’s ardent embrace. Coiled up in a pose of centrifugal energy, the impulsive lovers are oblivious to the third figure: Mezzetin, sitting on the same rocky outcrop. Drawn from the theatrical tradition of the commedia dell’arte, this character represents a poignant foil to the couple’s unbridled passion. Introverted and with a melancholy air, he tunes his guitar, knowing that his serenading will mean nothing to the lovers and serve only to heighten his own sense of lonely longing as he gazes upon them. His costume, a rose-coloured jacket and knee-britches slashed with yellow and adorned with blue ribbons as well as a lace ruff and cuffs, is reminiscent of the paintings of Anthony van Dyck. The small dog at lower right, a quotation from Rubens, watches the couple with considerably more appreciation than Mezzetin can muster.

Provenance
before 1724

Nicolas Hénin, French, 1691 - 1724 (Paris), presumably acquired from the artist, a close friend of Hénin's, by gift or purchase. One of two paintings described in Mme. Hénin's inventaire aprés décès as: "Idem, deux autres petites tableaux peints sur bois représentant des Espagnols & Espagnolettes, dans leur bordure de bois doré, originaux de Watteau, prise de cent livres." (Wintermute in Christie's 2008, p. 74)

by 1731

Jean de Jullienne, French, 1686 - 1766 (Paris)

by 1764 - before 1770

Ange-Laurent de La Live de Jully, French, 1725 - 1779 (Paris)

by 1792

François-Michel Harenc de Presle, 1710 - 1802 (Paris), sold, Le Brun, Paris, April 16-24, 1792, lot 51 ("Le croc-en-jambe. On voit un homme assis vêtu en habit de mezetin, jouant de la guitare & regardant un homme qui renverse sur lui une femme qu'il embrasse. Ce joli et précieux tableau se trouve gravé dans son oeuvre, par Audran sous le nom de La Surprise. Il est de la plus belle couleur et du plus beau faire de ce maître. Hauteur 14 pouces, largeur 11”); auction cancelled. Private sale to M. Robit.

1792 - 1801

François-Antoine Robit, sold, Paillet, Paris, 11–18 May 1801, lot 165 (“Un tableau aussi piquant par le sujet que par la richesse de la couleur et l’esprit de la touche. Dans un paysage frais et agréable l'on voit trois personnages, dont un jeune homme vêtu à l’Espagnole, pinçant de la guitare, tandis qu'un autre embrasse une jeune fille qu’il tient renversée sur ses genoux. Elle est vue de profil et par le dos, ajustée d'un corset rouge qui découvre une partie de ses épaules. Ce précieux morceau, gravé par Audran, sous le titre de La Surprise, provident du Cabinet de Presle. 14 sur 11 pouces. Bois.)” (411 francs to M. Vandewalle)

1801

Vandevalle

after 1827-1848

Lady Anne Elizabeth Murray (née Phipps), 1788 - 1848, apparently acquired after the death of her husband General Sir John Murray in 1827. Probably the "small Musical Conversation by Watteau" in the group of pictures offered by Lady Anne Murray to the National Gallery and rejected by the Gallery's trustees (Wintermute in Christie's 2008, p. 77; Wine 2014, p. 138). Part of the residue of the estate bequeathed to a friend of Lady Murray's after her death, 1848.
Source: Niemeijer 1965; Wintermute in Christie's, 8 July, 2008, p. 77.

after 1848 -

Private Collection, by descent within the family until 2008.

-

Private Collection [sale, Christie's London, July 8, 2008, lot 21 (sold to Jean-Luc Baroni) Ltd).]

2008 -

Jean-Luc Baroni, Ltd., sold to Concezione Ltd - Gibraltar (a company of the Vighignolo Investment Trust), 2008.

until 2017

Concezione Ltd - Gibraltar (a company of the Vighignolo Investment Trust), acquired through private sale by the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Exhibitions
Watteau, Music, and Theater (September 21 to November 29, 2009)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York), September 21 to November 29, 2009
Michelangelo to Degas: Major New Acquisitions (January 17 to April 22, 2018)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center (Los Angeles), January 17 to April 22, 2018
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Christie's, London. Important Old Master & British Pictures Evening Sale. July 8, 2008, lot 21, ill.

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