The Italian Comedians
oil on canvas
63.8 × 76.2 cm (25 1/8 × 30 in)
Possibly commissioned by Dr. Richard Mead [1673-1754], London; (his estate sale, Langford, London, 20-22 March 1754, 3rd day, no. 43, paired with no. 42, A Pastoral Conversation); Alderman William Beckford [1709-1770], London and Fonthill, Wiltshire, or his brother, Richard Beckford [d. 1756], London.  Roger Harenc [d. 1763], London;  (his estate sale, Langford, London, 1-3 March 1764, 3rd day, no. 52, a pair with A Musical Conversation [each day's lots begin with no. 1]); Augustus Henry, 3rd duke of Grafton [1735-1811], Euston Hall and London. acquired between 1851 and 1856 by Thomas Baring [1799-1873];  by inheritance to his nephew, Thomas George Baring, 1st earl of Northbrook [1826-1904], London; (Asher Wertheimer, London); purchased June 1888 by (Thos. Agnew and Sons, Ltd., London); sold the same month to Sir Edward Cecil Guinness [later 1st earl of Iveagh, 1847-1927], Dublin, London, Cowes, and Elveden Hall, Suffolk;  by inheritance to his third son, Walter Edward Guinness, 1st baron Moyne [1880-1944], London; purchased 18 February 1930 by (Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Paris, New York, and London).  Baron Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza [1875-1947], Schloss Rohoncz, Rechnitz, Hungary, and Amsterdam, by July 1930.  (Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Paris, New York, and London), by December 1936; purchased 23 November 1942 by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York;  gift 1946 to NGA.  See Robert Raines, "Watteau and 'Watteaus' in England before 1760," Gazette des Beaux-Arts 51 (February 1977): 62, for a discussion of which Beckford might have purchased the painting. William was his brother Richard's heir, and although William always resided in England, Richard lived mostly on the family's plantations in Jamaica. He only lived in London from late 1754 until late the next year, and he died in France early in 1756. If Richard owned the painting, it might possibly have been part of the "useful and ornamental furnishings" of his London house that were sold by his executors in April 1756 to Sir James Colebrooke, whose name is sometimes included in the provenance. See F.H.W. Sheppard, Survey of London, vol. 33, The Parish of St. Anne Soho, London, 1966: 89, for details about ownership of the house by Beckford and subsequent purchasers.  Sometimes spelled "Harene." The title page of the 1764 sale catalogue clearly spells the name with a final "c." If this is the same Roger Harenc whose daughter, Susanna Mary Harenc, married Sir Archibald Edmonstone, 1st baronet Edmonstone, Harenc appears to have been born in Paris, came to England in the early 1720s, married an Englishwoman, and prospered in business. He is recorded as the buyer of Watteau paintings in sales in England in the 1740s and 1750s.  Gustav Friedrich Waagen, Galleries and Cabinets of Art in Great Britain: Being an Account of More than Forty Collections of Paintings, Drawings, Sculptures, Mss., etc. etc. visited in 1854 and 1956, and now for the first time described, London, 1957: 96-97, records additions to the Baring collection since his visit in 1851.  See Richard Kingzett of Agnew, letter to Colin Eisler, 21 November 1968, NGA curatorial files: "[W]e bought the picture from the famous dealer, Wertheimer, in 1888 and sold it to Lord Iveagh in the same year. No provenance is given in our entry for the picture." Later references identify the Wertheimer as Asher, rather than his brother Charles, who was also an art dealer. The date of the Agnew sale to Lord Iveagh is in Julius Bryant, Kenwood: Paintings in the Iveagh Bequest, New Haven and London, 2003: 416. The Thos. Agnew & Sons Ltd. Archive was acquired in 2014 by the National Gallery Archive, London, and the picture stock books have since been digitized and made available on-line. The Watteau is recorded on page 90 of the stock book for 1885-1891 (reference number NGA27/1/1/7); copy in NGA curatorial files.  This information is in Wildenstein records, and was kindly shared with the NGA by Ay-Whang Hsia of Wildenstein via a copy of her 5 November 2008 e-mail to Katharine Baetjer (copy in NGA curatorial files). Colin Eisler (Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian, Oxford, 1977: 304 and n. 48), on the basis of a remark in René Gimpel, Journal d'un collectionneur, marchand de tableaux, Paris, 1963: 275, assumed the painting was with Wildenstein in 1924. However, this was discounted by Joseph Baillio of Wildenstein, who instead interpreted the remark to indicate that Nathan Wildenstein was simply asking Gimpel for his help in acquiring the painting (see A Gift to America: Masterpieces of European Painting from the Samuel H. Kress Collection, Exh. cat. North Carolina Museum of Art; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; The Seattle Art Museum; Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; New York, 1994: 210 n. 3). The provenance supplied by Wildenstein to the Kress Foundation in 1942 (NGA curatorial files) incorrectly lists Walter Guinness and Lord Moyne as separate individuals and places the Thyssen-Bornemisza ownership between them, but it does not indicate the company had the painting more than once.  The painting was in an exhibition of the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection that opened in July 1930. However, Wildenstein has no record of exactly when between February and July 1930 ownership of the painting changed hands (see Ay-Whang Hsia's e-mail of 5 November 2008; copy in NGA curatorial files).  Wildenstein records provide the date by which the painting was with their New York office, and the sale date to the Kress Foundation (see Ay-Whang Hsia's e-mail of 5 November 2008; copy in NGA curatorial files).