Signed in pen and black ink at lower right, "Pierre"; inscribed in pen and black ink along lower margin, "non morbleu, c'est a vous; et vos ris complaisans LE MISANTROPE. tirent de son esprit. tous ces trais medisans".
A prolific painter of history, religious, and genre scenes, Pierre assumed the mantle of premier peintre du roi in 1770 in the wake of Boucher's death and was named Director of the Academie Royale the same year. Throughout his career he was supported by 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 Moliere's most famous comedies, "Le Misanthrope", which was first performed in the theatre of the Palais Royal on 4 June 1666. The play is set in the fashionable milieu of seventeenth-century Paris. Alceste, the misanthrope of the title, is disgusted by the hypocrisy, injustice, and overall corruption in human society. Nonetheless, he is in love with Celimene, a young flirtatious widow, who surrounds herself with suitors and is a prime example of the insincerity that Alceste despises in others.The drawing shows Alceste, the misanthrope of the title, with his beloved Celimene, her two suitors Clitandre and Acaste, Alceste's friend Philinte, and Celimene's cousin Eliante. The inscription from act II, scene IV "Non morbleu!, c'est a vous; et vos ris complaisans tirent de son esprit tous ces trais medisants [sic]" which may be translated as "No, gadzooks! It concerns you; for your assenting laughs draw from her wit all these slanderous remarks" is spoken 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 the lady, Celimene, and not to them. The drawing, which has been dated to about 1750-55, is one of three known drawings by Pierre after Moliere's works; the other two represent scenes from "Le Sicilien" and "Georges Dandin". The British Museum, London, owns 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 (1610-1660) "Don Japhet d'Armenie", first published in 1653. Pierre's inspiration for these theater drawings likely was the series of illustrations for the six-volume edition of Moliere's plays published in Paris in 1734 with engravings after designs by Boucher. This drawing with its fluid and spirited touch is a superb example of Pierre's draftsmanship. (Rhoda Eitel-Porter)