Watteau, Jean-Antoine: Les Charmes de la Vie / Die Freuden des Lebens, ca. 1718-1719, Öl auf Leinwand, 67,3 x 92,5 cm. London, The Wallace Collection, Inv. Nr. P410
The Städel Museum owns a small but important group of drawings by Antoine Watteau. This direct, sensitive medium played a particularly important role for the painter who created the 'fêtes galantes' and recorded attentive encounters and sensitive perceptions. Watteau's preferred drawing technique was chalk: black chalk and especially red chalk, which can create both lines and surfaces, as well as form strong accents and delicate transitions. The interplay with the colour of the paper can produce an effect similar to that of a painting. The 'Standing Male Figure' from circa 1718-19 is a masterly example of all this.
The man, who is leaning on an object which is not shown in the picture, is wearing an old-fashioned beret adorned with a feather. Over his shoulder is draped a coat which falls in dark folds. These heavy forms contrast with the delicacy of the slightly inclined face and the nervous hand. The drawing is a model study, and the same figure can be found in the painting 'Les Charmes de la Vie' ('The Attractions of Life') in the Wallace Collection in London. There, he is leaning on the back of a chair and listening to the music. The similarity of the study and the painting that followed leads us to surmise that the drawing was made expressly for this purpose and that Watteau was attempting with this dreamily reflective facial expression to depict the experience of listening. Through the interest in the facial expression, the study becomes a portrait at the same time. There are good reasons for assuming that the gentleman standing and listening is the painter Nicolas Vleughels (1668-1737), who later became the director of the Académie de France in Rome. He was a friend of Watteau's and the two men lived at the same address in Paris in about 1718-19. The study, which may also be a personal and characterising portrait, will have been produced around that time.