Jean Antoine Watteau: And The People Who Influenced His Career

Topics: Rococo, Antoine Watteau, Nicolas Lancret Pages: 10 (3068 words) Published: December 7, 2013



Who was Jean-Antoine Watteau?

Gradually drifting away from the seventeenth century Baroque style, French painting of the eighteenth century embraced the Rococo. One of the most influential and acclaimed artists of this era was Jean-Antoine Watteau. Watteau undoubtedly mapped the path of new artistic advancements in France. He was a former costume designer of a small, provincial town that evolved into a master of the fêtes galantes genre painting. He became pupil to the theatrical painter Claude Gillot and eventual member of the prestigious Académie. Consequently, it should come as no surprise of this artist’s rising fame and success during his time and for centuries to come. Watteau was born in Valenciennes, a northern town in France on October 10th of 1684.1 Valenciennes, culturally more Flemish than French, had recently separated from the Spanish Netherlands and officially became a part of France six years prior to his birth.2 His hometown’s Flemish background had a lasting influence on his art and life. As a young boy, Watteau was an enthusiastic reader, lover of music, and even enjoyed performing on the public square.3 His reading consisted mostly of pastorals, interludes, operas, and ballets, which inadvertently seem to play a large role in his later art.4 He showed interest in painting from an early age. Therefore, around the age of 18, he was apprenticed to a local, amateur painter named Jacques-Albert Gérin.5 However, in around 1702, he traveled to Paris, the city where he would carve out his career and eventually meet his teacher and mentor, Claude Gillot, who was a set designer of the opera and decorator to various theatrical establishments.6 It is believed by historians that if Watteau had not ventured to Paris, he might be considered a Flemish artist today.7 For most of the seventeenth century, French painters were only considered tradesmen with minimal opportunity or hope to any social footing among the elite. However, due to permanent social, cultural, and political shifts in France during these years, the status of art and artists changed drastically.8 Established in the heart of Paris, Watteau gained access to a multitude of social and cultural experiences. Despite his frequenting the salons and fairs of wealthy, affluent art collectors and his acceptance into the official, highly respected Académie royale de peinture et de sculpture; he remained humble.9 Acceptance into the Académie and access to the upper echelons of society greatly promoted the appreciation of Watteau’s artwork.10 There are several key figures that had a huge influence in Watteau’s life: Pierre Crozat, Edme-François Gersaint, and Jean de Jullienne. These three people helped to deeply impact Watteau’s career in a multitude of ways.

Pierre Crozat and the “Genre” Painting of Watteau

Watteau’s work is often described as fascinating, illustrious, or charming. Yet, despite Watteau’s light-hearted and enthralling approach to art, some of his most significant paintings seem to derive from a melancholic attitude.11 It is challenging to precisely characterize Watteau’s genre of painting since his compositions, iconographies, and mediums varied so immensely. Through the course of his life, his artwork ranged from candid scenes of Parisian street life to the representations of military, comical, or pastoral scenes.12 He was the “frivolous” painter of revel, dance, masquerade, landscapes, animals, flowers and everyday life.13 Claude Gillot introduced Watteau to one of his favorite subjects: the characters of the banned Italian commedia dell’arte.14 In Watteau An Artist of the Eighteenth Century, Marianne Roland Michel cites Gersaint, Watteau’s trusted art dealer and close companion, as saying that, “all that Watteau gained from this master was a certain taste for the grotesque...

Bibliography: Crow, Thomas E. Painters and Public Life in 18th-Century Paris. Yale University Press, 1985.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 2013. s.v. "Antoine Watteau." (accessed March 17, 2013).
Hattori, Cordélia. Master Drawings. Contemporary Drawings in the Collection of Pierre Crozat. Vol. 45, No. 1. Master Drawings Association, 2007. (accessed April 30, 2013). (accessed March 17, 2013).
The Illustrated Magazine of Art. Watteau. Vol. Vol. 4, No. 19, pp. 55-56. (accessed March 17, 2013).
Michel, Marianne Roland. Watteau An Artist of the Eighteenth Century. London: Trefoil
Books Ltd., 1984.
Plax, Julie Anne. Watteau and the Cultural Politics of Eighteenth Century France.
Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Tillerot, Isabelle. "Engraving Watteau in the Eighteenth Century: Order and Display in the Recueil Jullienne." Getty Research Journal. no. 3 (2011): 33-52. (accessed April 30, 2013).
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