The Getty sent out this press release today:
The J. Paul Getty Museum announced today the acquisition of The Italian Comedians (ca. 1720) by Jean-Antoine Watteau (French, 1684–1721). The large oil painting (50 7/8” x 36 ¾“) was painted at the height of Watteau’s fame, shortly before his early death at age 36.
“This major, little-known painting is extraordinary. It shows Watteau at the height of his creative genius,” said James Cuno, President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust. “Not only will it enhance our paintings collection, but it complements the Museum’s collection of French decorative arts, which is amongst the finest in the world.”
The Italian Comedians joins 18th century French paintings already in the Getty Museum’s collection by artists such as Nicolas Lancret (1690 –1743), Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699–1779), and Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714–1789), all of which have been acquired in the last decade.
The Italian Comedians has been in private collections since the 18th century and has not been publicly exhibited since 1929. Over the last three centuries, its attribution has fluctuated. Until the late 19th century, the painting was attributed to Watteau. It was then assigned to Watteau’s pupil Jean-Baptiste Pater and subsequently to an anonymous painter in the circle of Watteau. Although the attribution has changed over time, the artwork has always been praised for its brilliant composition and emotional power and associated with Watteau’s psychologically profound depictions of the Italian Comedians.
“Although not all scholars agree about the attribution, they are all in accord that the canvas is brilliantly conceived, emotionally compelling, beautifully painted, and by an artist at the top of his form,” adds Schaefer. “We believe that the only artist able to rise to this level of accomplishment was Antoine Watteau, and that he executed the entire painting.”
No price was given for the acquisition. But the Los Angeles Times’s Mike Boehm did a little background work:
“The Italian Comedians” was last displayed publicly at a Paris museum in 1929. It resurfaced last April, in a major sale by heirs of Paul-Louis Weiller. [. . .] Experts for the auction house Gros & Delettrez billed “The Italian Comedians” as a work from around 1720 by the “French school … circle of Antoine Watteau.” Reporting on the auction last April, the International Herald Tribune said it had sold for 1.56 million euros — about $2 million — a price 20 times the auctioneer’s top estimate.
“La Surprise,” a Watteau painting of lovers embracing while a musician prepares to serenade them, fetched $24.4 million at a London auction in 2008, setting a record for an 18th century French artist.
Getty Buys What It Believes to Be a Watteau Painting (Los Angeles Times)