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1690s, "a picturesque or graphic description or picture," from French tableau "picture, painting," from Old French table "slab, writing tablet" (see table (n.)) + diminutive suffix -eau, from Latin -ellus. Hence tableau-vivant (1817) "person or persons silent and motionless, enacting a well-known scene, incident, painting, etc.," popular 19c. parlor game, literally "living picture."