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A richly detailed "Pair of Watercolours on Paper | French School, circa 1700," depicts a classical scene in an ornate room with various figures. A central figure, likely a ruler, sits on an elevated throne under a canopy, surrounded by attendants and visitors. The scene is framed by intricate golden decorations. Nicholas Wells Antiques

The Vivid Narratives of French Watercolours: Stories of Heroism and Trust

In the domain of 18th-century French art, the emotive power and narrative depth of watercolour painting often encapsulated more than just aesthetic delight; they portrayed vibrant stories from history and mythology that resonated with the cultural sentiments of the time. Two particularly captivating examples of this art form are housed within the collection titled “French School, circa 1700.” These works not only showcase the technical finesse typical of the period but also bring to life two profound tales of heroism and trust: “Judith and Her Handmaiden with the Head of Holofernes” and “Alexander Holding Parmenio’s Letter.”

Judith and Her Handmaiden with the Head of Holofernes

This painting vividly captures the biblical story of Judith, the daring widow who saved her village from Assyrian invaders by beheading the enemy general, Holofernes. The scene is set in an architectural environment, possibly hinting at the tent where Judith committed the act. The artwork focuses on the moment post-execution, with Judith and her handmaiden handling the severed head—a symbol of triumph and divine intervention. The sleeping guards in the background emphasise the stealth and courage of the women, enhancing the drama of the scene.

The choice of watercolours adds a softness to the night scene, with the muted palette suggesting the secrecy and tension of the moment. The delicate play of light and shadow subtly highlights the expressions of determination and anxiety on the women’s faces, masterfully conveying the mixed emotions that the act of violence has wrought upon them.

Alexander Holding Parmenio’s Letter

The second painting shifts from biblical to historical narrative, illustrating a pivotal moment in the life of Alexander the Great. It depicts the young conqueror in his tent, being handed a medicinal draught by his friend Philip, while defiantly holding a letter from his general, Parmenio, warning him that the drink may be poisoned. Alexander’s decision to trust Philip and drink the potion regardless of the potential danger speaks volumes about his character, embodying his courage and resolution.

Rendered in pen and ink, watercolour, and bodycolour, this piece is striking in its dynamic composition and use of colour, particularly the vivid blue of Philip’s attire, which draws the eye and emphasises his central role in the narrative. The intimate setting inside Alexander’s tent is depicted with fine details, from the furnishings to the textural contrasts of the fabrics, enhancing the historical authenticity and emotional intensity of the scene.

Nicholas Wells Antiques advisors are available to answer all your questions. 

Please email us or call +44 (0)207 6920 897
A richly detailed "Pair of Watercolours on Paper | French School, circa 1700," depicts a classical scene in an ornate room with various figures. A central figure, likely a ruler, sits on an elevated throne under a canopy, surrounded by attendants and visitors. The scene is framed by intricate golden decorations. Nicholas Wells Antiques

Pair of Watercolours on Paper | French School, circa 1700

Stock Number: 15537

French School, circa 1700 Judith and her handmaiden with the head of Holofernes, with sleeping guards in an architectural setting; and Alexander holding Parmenio’s letter, defiantly drinking a medicinal draft given him by his friend Philip, who stands in blue beside the bed pen and ink, watercolour and bodycolour on paper.
  • Height: 21 cm (8.25 inches)
  • Width: 30.5 cm (12 inches)
  • Height (Framed): 30.5 cm (12 inches)
  • Width (Framed): 38 cm (15 inches)

£15,000

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Dimensions

Approximate Dimensions

  • Height: 21 cm (8.25 inches)
  • Width: 30.5 cm (12 inches)
  • Height (Framed): 30.5 cm (12 inches)
  • Width (Framed): 38 cm (15 inches)

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