L'Enseigne de Gersaint  

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L'Enseigne de Gersaint[1], or "Gersaint's Shopsign", (1720) is a painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau, which is considered to be his last masterpiece. It was painted as a shop sign for the marchand-mercier, or art dealer, Edme François Gersaint. According to Daniel Roche the sign functioned more as an advertisement for the artist than the dealer.

The painting exaggerates the size of Gersaint's cramped boutique, hardly more than a permanent booth with a little back-shop, on the medieval Pont Notre-Dame, in the heart of Paris, both creating and following fashion as he purveyed works of art and luxurious trifles to an aristocratic clientele.


The picture is painted on two square canvasses, which combine to form a single image depicting clients and staff at the shop. As a worker packs away a portrait of Louis XIV at the left, in the centre a young man offers his hand to a woman who is stepping over the threshold of the shop. At the right an elderly couple examine a painting of nudes, and a pretty young shop assistant, possibly Gersaint's wife, shows a painting to a group of well-dressed young people.

The painting sets these scenes of aristocratic connoiseurship in the context of the art with which the patrons and staff are engaged. The young man offering his hand to the woman in pink is set against a series of female nudes, while puritanical figures in portraits at the left seem to look down disapprovingly. At the right, there are numerous images of orgies and naked figures, implying that art expresses the hidden lustful feelings of the genteel figures in the shop, who merely gaze at one another or engage in polite gestures of intimacy.

Commonly, the painting is interpreted as a commentary on the shift in aristocratic culture - or relief - that occurred during the government of the more licentious Régent Philippe II, Duke of Orléans (1715-1723), after the death of Louis XIV and before the accession to the throne of Louis XV. The boxing of Pierre Mignard's portrait of the deceased king implies the end of the old régime.


The painting never actually functioned as an external shop sign, spending only fifteen days at the shop. Watteau himself asked Gersaint to allow him to paint it, complaining of "cold fingers" that needed some exercise. It was soon bought by Claude Glucq, who may be the standing figure depicted looking at the painting by the desk. It was then acquired by Watteau's patron Jean de Julienne. After an engraving was made in 1732, it attracted the attention of Frederick the Great of Prussia. He bought it and it remained in Germany thereafter, now forming part of the collection at the Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin.


Watteau's final masterpiece, the Shop-sign of Gersaint, exits the pastoral forest locale for a mundane urban set of encounters. Painted at Watteau's own insistence, "to take the chill off his fingers", this sign for an art shop in Paris is effectively the final curtain of Watteau's theatre. It has been described as Watteau's Las Meninas, in that the theme appears to be the promotion of art. The scene is an art gallery where the façade has magically vanished. The gallery and street in the canvas are fused into one contiguous drama.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "L'Enseigne de Gersaint" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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