tab·​leau | \ˈta-ˌblō, ta-ˈblō \
plural tableaux\ ˈta-​ˌblōz , ta-​ˈblōz \ also tableaus

Definition of tableau 

1 : a graphic description or representation : picture winsome tableaux of old-fashioned literary days— J. D. Hart

2 : a striking or artistic grouping : arrangement, scene

3 [ short for tableau vivant (from French, literally, living picture) ] : a depiction of a scene usually presented on a stage by silent and motionless costumed participants

Examples of tableau in a Sentence

The houses are grouped together in a charming tableau.

Recent Examples on the Web

For a moment, her splayed curls and panic turns her into a black tableau vivant of Caravaggio’s Medusa, and everyone else has frozen accordingly, staring up at her, trying to process what the hell is happening. Allison P. Davis, The Cut, "Everybody Loves New York," 31 May 2018 Not only is each new tableau meticulously detailed, but so, too, is the amount of care put into the world-building of a not-so-distant future of one of America's great working-class cities. Patrick Shanley, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Detroit: Become Human' — Game Review," 24 May 2018 The tableau story unfolded with a Rougarou casting a spell on the members of the OIC, declaring that there would be no ball unless heroes from the past saw fit to reverse it. Sue Strachan,, "Original Illinois Club Carnival Ball 2018 honors heritage," 12 Feb. 2018 This is quite probably the best of Jarman's narrative features, presented in a series of spare but powerful tableaux—beautifully and thoughtfully designed, like Joseph Cornell boxes with black backgrounds. Patrick Friel, Chicago Reader, "Arts / Film / History / LGBTQ+ / On Video / Television Queer filmmaker Derek Jarman gets a Pride Month retrospective at FilmStruck," 20 June 2018 It’s hard to imagine a female author commenting on the tableau quite that way. Laura Collins-hughes,, "‘That Kind of Mother’ is an absorbing, frustrating story of race, class, and motherhood," 2 May 2018 It’s hard to imagine a sadder tableau than elementary school kids sheltering in place, and parents suddenly unable to spare them the bad news. Dan Rodricks,, "Rodricks: Failure in the city, death in the county," 22 May 2018 Nature’s paintbrush had daubed the branches of the trees along East-West Highway, creating a scenic tableau, each element of which was eager for my attention. John Kelly, Washington Post, "In spring, a middle-aged man’s fancy turns to blossoms and batteries," 29 Apr. 2018 June and Nick finally have a family tableau moment alone with Holly while Rita keeps guard. Rena Gross, Billboard, "'The Handmaid's Tale': Season 2, Episode 13 Recap: 19 Startling Moments in 'The Word'," 11 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'tableau.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of tableau

1660, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for tableau

French, from Middle French tablel, diminutive of table, from Old French

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Statistics for tableau

Last Updated

9 Nov 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for tableau

The first known use of tableau was in 1660

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English Language Learners Definition of tableau

: a view or sight that looks like a picture

: a scene that typically shows an event in history or literature and that is created on a stage by a group of people who are dressed in costumes and who do not speak or move


tab·​leau | \ˈta-ˌblō \
plural tableaux also tableaus\ -​ˌlōz \

Kids Definition of tableau

: a scene or event shown by a group of persons who remain still and silent

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Spanish Central: Translation of tableau

Nglish: Translation of tableau for Spanish Speakers

Comments on tableau

What made you want to look up tableau? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


to clear from alleged fault or guilt

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