The Getty Museum has recently made a purchase that has sent murmurs of debate through the art world. The museum has just acquired The Italian Comedians a slightly obscure, 18th century painting by Antoine Watteau. The painting features one of Watteau’s beloved subjects: Italy’s improvisational comedy performers. The Italian Comedians includes a cast of clowns, troubadours and harlequin characters that were often the inspiration for much of Watteau’s work.
The discussion around the The Italian Comedians is one of authenticity. The painting is rare in both its large scale size and its lack of recorded history. Before purchasing the painting, the Getty conferred with a diverse group of Watteau experts who had all viewed The Italian Comedians in person. The Los Angeles Times reports that from this group of experts, “the vote was 7-3 in favor of it being either solely by Watteau, who was 36 when he died in 1721, or a canvas the master had left unfinished, to be completed by another hand — possibly his student, Jean-Baptiste Pater, to whom the painting was sometimes attributed during the 20th century.”
Antoine Watteau was a French painter whose brief life was pivotal in bridging art movements. He is attributed with re-introducing the Baroque style of painting while also encouraging the emergence of a less rigid, more spontaneous style. Watteau is best known for this theatrical images that were created for his clients in the upper echelons of 18th century society.