(French, Paris 1714–1789 Paris)
Pen and black ink, brush and gray wash, over black chalk, heightened with white gouache, on blue paper
8 3/4 x 11 inches (220 x 280 mm)
Purchased as the gift of Joan Taub Ades and on the Lois and Walter C. Baker Fund; 2006.5
A prolific painter of history, religious, and genre scenes, Pierre assumed the mantle of premier peintre du roi in 1770, following Boucher's death. He was named director of the Académie Royale the same year. Throughout his career Pierre enjoyed the support of royal and noble patrons and continued the elegant tradition fostered by his mentor, Charles-Joseph Natoire.
This highly finished drawing illustrates a scene from one of Molière's most famous comedies, Le Misanthrope, which was first performed in the theater of the Palais Royal on 4 June 1666. The play is set in fashionable seventeenth-century Paris. Alceste, the title character, is disgusted by humanity's hypocrisy, injustice, and corruption. Nonetheless, he is in love with Célimène, a flirtatious young widow, who surrounds herself with suitors and exemplifies the insincerity that Alceste despises in others. The drawing depicts Alceste with Célimène; her two suitors, Clitandre and Acaste; Alceste's friend Philinte; and Célimène's cousin Éliante. The inscription Non morbleu!, c'est a vous; et vos ris complaisans tirent de son esprit tous ces trais medisants [sic], which may be translated "No, gadzooks! It concerns you; for your assenting laughs draw from her wit all these slanderous remarks," is a line from act 2, scene 4, directed by Alceste to the suitors in response to Clitandre's comment. Clitandre had remarked that if Alceste was offended by what had been said, he should address his reproaches to Célimène and not to them.
This sheet, which has been dated to about 1750–55, is one of three known drawings by Pierre illustrating Molière's works; the other two represent scenes from Le Sicilien and Georges Dandin. The British Museum, London, has a fourth highly finished illustration of a theatrical scene by Pierre (inv. no. 1938-5-17-2), which depicts a scene from Paul Scarron's (1610–60) Don Japhet d'Arménie, first published in 1653. Pierre's inspiration for these theater drawings likely was the series of illustrations for the six-volume edition of Molière's plays published in Paris in 1734 with engravings after designs by Boucher. The fluid and spirited touch of the present drawing makes it a superb example of Pierre's draftsmanship.