A Scene from the Commedia dell'Arte with Harlequin and Punchinello

Artist or maker:
Lancret, Nicolas (b.1690, d.1743)
Place of production:
Paris, France
oil on panel
Type of object:
Accession number:


A group of actors from the commedia dell'arte troupe entertain a party of fashionably dressed women and girls. The characters dance and play with their audience. The setting is a park landscape, commonly used in Nicolas Lancret's 'fête galantes'.

Audience and actors mingle together in this work, blurring the lines between theatre and leisure. The setting is also integrated into the scene. In the centre, Punch, identifiable from his large stomach and tall hat, dances with his arms outstretched in front of his rival, the masked Harlequin. To the right, Pierrot sits before a young woman, possibly Sylvie. She looks at another actor, perhaps playing Crispin, who gesticulates theatrically. On the other side of the painting his gesture is echoed by an actress, perhaps Columbine, who entertains two young girls who appear to be part of the audience. Commedia dell'arte actors did in fact perform outside at several fairs, but Lancret provides a fantastical version of an outdoor play. The three framing gestures provide a human counterpart to the sweeping rococo staircase and wall behind the figures, creating an organic interchange between setting and performance.

The staircase is similar, though reversed, to that found in Nicolas Lancret, 'Pastoral Revels', of 1738, Wallace Collection (P478) which has been linked with the imaginary designs of Jacques Lajoüe. Such architectural elements also lend a three-dimensional presence to Lancret's scenes of fashionable parties, linking them with actual gardens particularly those at the Luxembourg Palace. These gardens were more informal in design and not so well maintained as other gardens in and around Paris. They provided ready inspiration for Lancret and other artists who painted 'fête galantes' (see Mary Tavener Holmes, Mark Leonard; Dance before a Fountain; Los Angeles; 2006). This was a type of painting that Lancret's teacher, Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), had practically invented. Groups of well-dressed revellers were depicted mingling with musicians, dancers and actors in idyllic outside settings.

Lancret painted several works with characters from the commedia dell'arte in the 1720s and 1730s, for example his 'An Italian Comedy Scene', Wallace Collection (P401), which has a similarly posed Punch. The 1730s was a particularly successful decade for Lancret; he became popular with many of the most important collectors of his day. He painted portraits of famous dancers and actors, as well as scenes of children playing, themes he combined here with the tried-and-tested 'fête galante' formula. There is a study drawing in the Pierpont Morgan Library 'Pierrot Seated on the Ground' for the figure at lower right, noted for its restrained execution and calm, rotund form of Lancret's mature style.

Phillippa Plock, 2011

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
444 x 578
425 x 567 - sight
Signature & date:
signed and dated, lower centre on log: Lancret 173[4?]
a redorer a l'eau
ou de leger -
[on verso of frame, lower left, ink]
[on verso of panel, upper left, handwritten in ink]

[on verso of panel, centre centre, label handwritten in pencil]

Small library right of door
[on verso of panel and frame, two labels, handwritten in ink]


Acquired by Alice de Rothschild (b.1847, d.1922) before 1906; inherited by her great-nephew James de Rothschild (b.1878, d.1957); bequeathed to Waddesdon The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust) in 1957.
Waddesdon (National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957



Anita Brookner, French Pictures at Waddesdon, The Burlington Magazine, 101, 1959, 271-273; p. 273; with incorrect information that was attributed to Pater
Sir Francis Watson, The Art Collections at Waddesdon Manor I: The Paintings, Apollo, 69, June 1959, 172-182; p. 182, fig. 20
Ellis Waterhouse, Anthony Blunt; Paintings: The James A. de Rothschild Collection at Waddesdon Manor; Fribourg; Office du Livre, The National Trust; 1967; p. 260, cat. no. 1991, ill.
Margaret Morgan Grasselli, Eleven New Drawings by Nicolas Lancret, Master Drawings, 3, 1985-1986, 377-89, 467-74; pp. 385-87, fig. 15

Indexed terms