The fleeting captured
Although it is true that, over is brief career, Watteau's drawing style underwent changes and achieved greater assurance, the word "assurance" is not the first that springs to mind, even in a later study such as this one. This not to say that he was uncertain or technically tentative. It is simply that everything he drew is depicted in terms that are quick, fresh and if not exactly restless,m then only just settled. This was true even when his model, like this one, was motionless.
The prettiness (as differentiated from the "beauty," which suggests a bolder structure) of young women has rarely if ever been better translated into draughtmanship. Prettiness is elusive and fleeting -- the flower that fades -- and Watteau seems to have known very well that this elusiveness can be anguish if it isn't somehow retrained. His art was a way of capturing hints and nuances too easily lost. He worked in light touches and strokes that could afford to be gentle because they were so particular and accurate. Clearly this is a study made from a model, a portrait, though not a society portrait with the importance of official likeness.
He actually made his drawings, of which more than a thousand are still known to exist, for reference, keeping them in portfolios which he raided so that the figures (and landscapes) could be incorporated in his paintings, his "fetes galantes."m Frequently his studies of people show them from a number of positions on the same sheet of paper, and although this may well have been an economic use of the paper, it also results in fascinating multifaceted kineticism.He moves round his subject, looking at it often from slightly above or below. The way in which he relates these back, front and side views to one another on the paper is often strikingly happy, though probably undeliberate. He favours the lost or almost lost profile, and to him the back of a head was as significant as the front. By these viewpoints he intensifies the sense of something scarcely seen or just missed, and suggests hidden felicities.
This is far more than a device. In his drawing, for example, the girl's prettiness is evident, but Watteau also manages to express perfectly wrote that Watteau's drawings of actors, dancers, musicians and of friends and servants (often in fancy dress) were made "as if they were unaware of his presence." This unawareness appears paradoxically unselfconscious. Certainly in this drawing the girl's pose is completely untheatrical: the charm lies in its naturalness.
It is very rarely that the eyes of his models look out directly at us. Perhaps it is this turning away that gives Watteau's drawings such a different feeling from Ruben's, though he copied and learnt from the 17th-century Flemish artist more than any other. Both artists presented an ideal world and both revelled in its pleasures and delights. But Rubens confronts you, while Watteau offers you glances. Rubens' figures celebrate fulfillment: Watteau's seem, if anything, rather lovesick. One paints the world as if it is forever as its best; the other as if it can only be at its best for the briefest passing moment: though his art can magically grasp that moment.