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PRINT April 1988

WORKING WATTEAU

AT THE LOUVRE, STANDING in front of one of Watteau’s working drawings, Deux études de corps nus (Two studies of nude bodies, ca. 1715–16), I notice that over a reclining male nude the artist has lightly sketched, sideways on the page, a standing female nude. I’m looking at a picture of opposite sexes joined at the crotch, their flesh responding to gravity from different directions, and I think, This seems modern.

I’ve never cared for Watteau’s paintings; they share a place in my heart with wedding cake. In his drawings, however, cloying 18th-century mannerisms are secondary to knowledge of anatomy, habits of light, and expressiveness of gesture. Flesh in the drawings is palpable. Like few other artists, Watteau utilized the texture of paper to suggest the porosity of skin. Nothing in the drawings has turned into the marzipan imitation of life rendered in his oils.

Watteau’s graphic works

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