Recruits Going to Join the Regiment is part of a group of works depicting military subjects made by Watteau early in his career. As a group, they avoid bloodshed and violence, focusing instead on the mundane aspects of the soldiers’s itinerant existence. A lively and flickering ink line animates what might otherwise be a dreary subject: young recruits trudging towards a war front to replace soldiers who have deserted or died. Their progress from right to left traces an arabesque across and into the composition, their placement and varied poses suggestive of the elegant and precise moves of contemporary dance.
Although reproductive prints were made after much of his painted and drawn oeuvre, etchings by Watteau’s own hand are exceedingly rare. He was not trained as a printmaker, but on a few occasions made an initial design with an etching needle on a copper plate that would later be re-worked by a professional printmaker using a burin. In the process of preparing the plate for a large edition, the engraver--in this case Henri-Simon Thomassin the Younger (1687-1741)-- would reinforce the image with deeper engraved lines, largely obliterating Watteau’s delicate and animated etched line. This is a rare impression of the first state of the print made before the plate was re-worked.
Perrin Stein, May 2014