Graine de Niais, Comedie 1764.

(Piece of trickery, comedy, 1764)

Artist or maker:
Saint-Aubin, Charles-Germain de (b.1721, d.1786)
The inscription states 1764
Place of Production:
Paris, France
watercolour, ink and graphite on paper
Accession number:
One of a set, see others


Brief Description:

A man, woman and bear stand before a theatrical backdrop depicting a rural village and its environs. On the right of the page is a cottage and, on the left, behind some trees, the spire of a church. Mountains are also faintly evident in the background.

The central figure of the three is a woman wearing a yellow hooped dress. In her right hand she holds a baton or stick and, in her left, a long pink ribbon to which a bear is tied. The bear, which stands on its hind legs, appears to be engaged in a simple dance with the woman: both extend a leg (the bear its right, the woman her left) and raise an arm (vice versa). To the left is a man who seems poised to leave the scene. He looks back over his left shoulder towards the bear. He is dressed in black breeches, a black jacket with lace collar and cuffs, a cape, and a hat with a broad brim.

Curatorial Commentary

No play with this title has been traced. A “graine de niais” is a product that is claimed to be miraculous in its effects, but which in fact could only fool the simple-minded. This drawing is linked pictorially with that on the facing page (675.223) and by the theme of dupery.

Given the hostility that Saint-Aubin displayed to the composer Jean-Philippe Rameau throughout the “Livre de Caricatures”, it is tempting to believe that his “pastorale-héroique”, “Nais” might be evoked here. (It is also worth noting that in 1724 Rameau had written music for the piano entitled “Les Niais de Sologne”). First played in 1749 as a belated celebration of the 1748 Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, “Nais” was reprised in August 1764, which fits with the date given in the drawing. However, the topic of Rameau’s opera in no way resembles the images here and on the facing page (675.223).

Mark Ledbury notes that one play which featured a bear was Jean-Siméon Favart’s 1756 “opéra comique”, “La Bohémienne”, a two-act translation of the Italian comic opera “La Zingara”. The Bohemian disguises, the settings and the play with the “bourse” here and in the facing drawing (675.223) suggest a link to that drama. However, its performance history does not seem to include a Parisian performance in 1764, although the Favart version was performed regularly in the provinces and in Brussels in the 1760s. (Ledbury, 2012) Ledbury suggests that a more convincing link is to the one-act “opéra-comique”, “Les Deux Chasseurs et la Laitière” (‘The Two Hunters and the Milkmaid’) created by Louis Anseaume and Egidio Duni which opened at the Théâtre de l’Hôtel de Bourgogne in July 1763. (Ledbury, 2012). It then showed in Saint-Petersburg and Brussels before returning to the same location in 1765, 1766 and 1769. The plot revolves around two hunters promising the eponymous milkmaid a bear skin taken from a quarry they have yet to encounter (and indeed in the play never do). Theatre critics expressed regret that the play did not have a happy ending – and it would seem that in this image, Charles-Germain might be imagining one.

Physical description

Dimensions (mm):
187 x 132
Graine de Niais, Comedie 1764
Inscribed by Charles-Germain de Saint-Aubin, below image, in ink

Top left corner, in ink
Translation of inscription
Piece of trickery, comedy, 1764.
Pentimenti, between the woman and the man, in graphite; the figure of the woman has shifted several times on the page, both to the right and the left of her current location.


Part of:
Livre de Caricatures tant bonnes que mauvaises. 675.1-389
Waddesdon, The Rothschild Collection (The National Trust)
Bequest of James de Rothschild, 1957



Mark Ledbury; Theatrical Life; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 193-214; pp. 210, 212, fig. 8.16

Related literature

Louis Anseaume; Les deux chasseurs et la laitière: comédie en un acte, melée d'ariettes; Paris; Veuve Duchesne; active c 1775; 1763
Jean-Philippe Rameau, C. Saint-Saëns; Œvres complètes; New York; Broude; 1968
Mark Ledbury; Theatrical Life; Colin Jones, Juliet Carey, Emily Richardson, The Saint-Aubin Livre de caricatures: drawing satire in eighteenth-century Paris, Oxford, SVEC, 2012; 193-214
Charles-Simon Favart; La Bohémienne; Paris; 1755

Indexed terms