Jean Antoine Watteau Biography | Oil Painting Reproductions

10-10-1684 Valenciennes, FRA – 7-18-1721 Nogent-sur-Marne, FRA

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Watteau, Jean Antoine

Jean-Antoine Watteau studied under Gerin but learned more from the paintings of Ostade and David Teniers. On his master's death, Watteau went to Paris when he was twenty-one, where he worked for the scene painter Metayer and then in a factory where he turned out cheap religious pictures by the dozen, it was in that period that he developed his characteristic sketch-like technique. Here he mastered the detailed, subtle naturalism of seventeenth-century Flemish and Dutch artists, and also studied the great collections of masterpieces in the Luxembourg and Louvre palaces. He was rescued from this drudgery by Claude Gillot and later worked under Claude Audran.

The turning point for Jean-Antoine Watteau came when he won second prize in a Prix de Rome competition in 1709. He became an associate of the Academy in 1712 and a full member in 1717. He led a revolt against the pompous classicism of the Louis XIV period and broke new ground with his realism and lively imagination. His early works were military subjects, but later he concentrated on rustic idylls which were very fashionable in the early eighteenth century.

Nostalgia for a Happy Island.

His acute perception of historical and social developments caused Watteau to make fundamental choices about style and subject matter, making him one of the earliest Fete-Galante painters in the European Rococo style. Against a backdrop of shady parks and delightful landscapes, small figures move with a gracefulness that is evoked, rather than painted, by light luminous brushstrokes. The themes treated are part of a vast repertoire of subjects that were popular in eighteenth-century painting, for example, the Embarkation for Cythera (the mythical island of love). This work symbolizes the desire to escape from reality and take refuge in the Arcadian dream of a mythic land of love that is identified as the Island of Cythera. The painting is read from right to left, beginning with the classical Herm of Venus (to whom Cythera is dedicated) decorated with rambling roses. A couple of lovers are seated before the statue, while others are rising to descend the short slope leading to the landing stage. Joyful cupids in flight welcome the lovers as they step into the light, gilded gondola that will take them to the island.

Jean-Antoine Watteau painted two versions of this subject, which gained him admission to the academy. The Fete-Galante genre depicts carefree themes: aristocratic receptions, dances, amorous advances, etc. Nonetheless, a closer look at Watteau's paintings reveals a feeling of nostalgia and a profound melancholy that pervades even the dreamiest scenes.

A keen theater lover, Watteau was familiar with the rules of disguise, fiction, and formal relationships. The world of the Commedia Dell'Arte masks becomes the theater of anxiety and ambiguity, pervaded by a transitory, precarious atmosphere. Pierrot or Gilles, a kind of pathetic Pulcinella, express and impending, felt loneliness, with his fading smile, seems a confused actor who appears to have forgotten his lines.

Mezzetin, another pathetic mask from the Commedia dell'Arte, is depicted here singing a serenade that is falling on deaf ears. The statue of a woman with her back turned in the background seems to allude to his loved one's coldness and rejection.

La Surprise, painted around 1718, was known only through a reproduction in the Royal Collection at Buckingham Palace before the original was found in the corner of a drawing room in a British country house during a routine insurance valuation in 2007. The painting was sold at auction for $20 million dollars.

This work L'Enseigne de Gersaint, Gersaint's Sign Shop was executed towards the end of his short life, while he was still suffering from tuberculosis that would lead to his death the same year. Over three meters wide and constructed according to the strict rules of perspective, it is considered to be one of the most representative masterworks of eighteenth century European painting. It originated modestly as a decorative work for the entrance to the “Au Grand Monarque” gallery, owned by the art dealer and Watteau's friend, Gersaint, with whom he went to live with in 1719. this canvas has been interpreted in various ways: as Watteau's spiritual and stylistic testament, as a symbol of a transition between periods of history and art, or more simply as the vivid vibrant image of a new pictorial model and the developing art market, which was extending to the upper bourgeois. These many meanings, sustained by the brilliance of a light, luminous style, are typical of Watteau, as is the vein of disenchantment and bittersweet irony that runs through an apparently realistic and even banal subject.

The name of the art gallery was a tribute to the Roi Soleil. The sovereigns long reign ended in 1715, therefore an assistant is symbolically placing and outmoded seventeenth century portrait of Louis XIV into a chest (on the left). This is an explicit reference to a radical change in taste and a turning point in the history of France.

The paintings hanging on the wall, one of the largest depicts an erotic mythological scene with a satyr pursuing a nymph. The theme and style of the works displayed here are evident of popular taste at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Landscapes, mythological scenes and nude women predominate. There are also religious paintings, but they are primarily relegated to the upper, less visible rows.

The two connoisseurs closely examine the large oval canvas depicting nude nymphs bathing, an example of the fete galante vogue that was spreading through French Rococo. Behind the canvas, Gesaint in person is singing its praises.

On the right, Madame Gersaint is describing the features of a small picture to a group of art lovers who appear to be bored. For a touch of reality at the bottom right, to bring the painting down to earth, there is a dog removing its flees.

Art Movement History: Rococo
Artists Influencing Jean-Antoine Watteau: Claude Audran, David Teniers the Younger, Jacques-Albert Gérin, Claude Gillot, Peter Paul Rubens
He Traveled To Italy, England
Painters Jean-Antoine Watteau Influenced: J.M.W. Turner

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