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Jean-Antoine Watteau (French pronunciation: [ɑ̃twan vato]; October 10, 1684 – July 18, 1721) was a French painter whose brief career spurred the revival of interest in colour and movement (in the tradition of Correggio and Rubens), and revitalized the waning Baroque idiom, which eventually became known as Rococo. He is credited with inventing the genre of fêtes galantes: scenes of bucolic and idyllic charm, suffused with an air of theatricality. Some of his best known subjects were drawn from the world of Italian comedy and ballet.

Antoine Watteau


The Scale of Love

The ball pleasure (Les Plaisirs du bal)

The ball pleasure (Les Plaisirs du bal) , detail

The ball pleasure (Les Plaisirs du bal) , detail

The bivouac

The Love Fest

The Love Song

The Marmot, The minstrel and the marmot

The Judgment of Paris

The gallant Harlequin

The Indifferent

The happy event

The hunter of the nest

The Dance

The Embarrassing Proposition

The pastime of Italian comedians

The pastime of Italian comedians, detail

The Adventurer

The view

The Champs Élyssées

The Champs Élyssées , detail

The Champs Élyssées , detail

The Champs Élyssées , detail

The family of Mezzetin

The French comedy , detail

The Italian Comedy

The Italian Comedy , detail

The Shepherd ( Fêtes Gallant )

The Shepherd ( Fêtes Gallant ) , detail

The Shepherd ( Fêtes Gallant ) , detail

The Pouting

The Serenate

The sculpture , Tondo

The meeting in the park

Embarkation for Cythera

Embarkation for Cythera

Embarkation for Cythera , detail

Embarkation for Cythera , detail

Embarkation for Cythera , detail

Embarkation for Cythera , detail

Embarkation for Cythera , detail
Embarkation for Cythera , detail
Festival in the Park
Fêtes gallant
Fêtes Gallant , detail
Fêtes Gallant , detail
French comedians
Gersaints shop sign
Gersaints shop sign , detail
Gersaints shop sign , detail
Gersaints shop sign , detail
Folksy outdoor entertainment
Gilles , detail
Italian comedians
Jupiter and Antiope
L' Enchanteur
La " toilet " , Oval
La Gamme d' Amour
La Leçon d' Amour
Les Charmes de la vie
Les Charmes de la vie , detail
Masquerade ( The return of the ball )
Meeting for hunting ( Rendez -vous de chasse )
Meeting for hunting ( Rendez -vous de chasse ) , detail
Meeting for hunting ( Rendez -vous de chasse ) , detail
Meeting for hunting ( Rendez -vous de chasse ) , detail
Venetian festivals ( Fêtes venitiennes )
Venetian festivals ( Fêtes venitiennes ) , detail
Venetian festivals ( Fêtes venitiennes ) , detail
Venetian festivals ( Fêtes venitiennes ) , detail
Venetian festivals ( Fêtes venitiennes ) , detail
Outdoor pleasure
Outdoor pleasure , detail
Outdoor pleasure , detail


Allegory of Spring

Ariadne , Bacchus and Venus

Sitting on a chair child

Bacchante lying on the floor
Bath of Diana
Bearded Persian , standing
Bearded Savoyard , standing
Bust of a woman and study of its hands
The remedy
The violinist
The Quack
The actor Philippe Poisson
The Shipwreck
The Birth of Venus
The Italian troupe
Three representations of a drummer
Three figures
Three pilgrims
Three portraits of musicians
Three studies of the doctor from the Italian Comedy
Three studies of a seated woman
Three studies of a woman's head and a hand study
Three studies according to the head of a young African
Three Studies for a girl
An outstretched lying Leopard
A Theorbenspieler
An avenue
Woman with black cap
Half-length figure of a seated lady in profile
Half-length portrait of a young girl
Half-length study of a young man
Italian comedians , cheers receiving
Hunting dogs and dead game
hunting party
Boy's head with hat
Kneeling servant
Kneeling woman , her apron sojourning
Head of a boy in profile to the right
Head of a Man
Male Nude sitting on the floor
Male Nude with bottle
Couples with a fountain
Portrait of Antoine de La Roque
Rescue of Moses from the water
Back view of a seated man and Armstudie
Actor parodying a military parade
Shoeshine boy
Explore niederkauende woman
Seated lady , looking and pointing at the right
Seated Woman , looking and pointing to the left
Sitting young woman
Sitting young woman in shirt
Seated man , turning to the right and holding a staff
seated Persian
seated Persian
Seated Persian with fur cap
Standing woman , her skirt lifting
Standing male figure
Standing male figure ; Nicolas Vleughels
Standing Savoyardin
Standing man with a glass
standing Persian
Standing Persian with fur cap
Standing Savoyard with marmot
Study for the " love feast "
Study sheet , Seated Woman and man lying
Study sheet with the back view of a standing woman and a head study
Study sheet with three standing figures , two men and a woman
Study sheet with three times the figure of an actor and hand studies
Study sheet with flute players and head study of a boy
Study sheet with six heads
Study sheet with a seated woman and a detailed drawing of her head and her shoulders
Study sheet with soldiers
Study sheet with two young men, one sitting , the other standing
Study sheet with two kids heads and four female heads
Study sheet with two male heads and the figure of a woman
Study sheet with two standing men , two standing and three sitting women
study sheet
study sheet
Theatre Puppets
Venetian landscape
Four studies of a woman's head
Four studies of a woman's head and two of a seated lady
Four studies of Italian comedians
Female half figure with folded hands
Female Nude on sofa
Two Geiger
Two men , one kneeling , one standing
Two heads facing to the right
Two recruits
Two actors with a dog
Two studies of the half-figure of a little girl
Two studies of a bagpiper
Two studies of a boy head and hands, tie a bow
Two studies of a man
Two studies of an actor
Two dancing men and old man with stick


Early life and training
Pilgrimage on the Isle of Cythera, 1717, Louvre. Many commentators note that it depicts a departure from the island of Cythera, the birthplace of Venus, thus symbolizing the brevity of love.

Watteau was born in the town of Valenciennes, which had recently passed from the Spanish Netherlands to France. His father was a master tiler. Showing an early interest in painting, he was apprenticed to Jacques-Albert Gérin, a local painter. Having little to learn from Gérin, Watteau left for Paris in about 1702. There he found employment in a workshop at Pont Notre-Dame, making copies of popular genre paintings in the Flemish and Dutch tradition; it was in that period that he developed his characteristic sketchlike technique.

In 1703 he was employed as an assistant by the painter Claude Gillot, whose work represented a reaction against the turgid official art of Louis XIV's reign. In Gillot's studio Watteau became acquainted with the characters of the commedia dell'arte (its actors had been expelled from France several years before), a favorite subject of Gillot's that would become one of Watteau's lifelong passions. Afterward he moved to the workshop of Claude Audran III, an interior decorator, under whose influence he began to make drawings admired for their consummate elegance. Audran was the curator of the Palais du Luxembourg, where Watteau was able to see the magnificent series of canvases painted by Peter Paul Rubens for Queen Marie de Medici. The Flemish painter would become one of his major influences, together with the Venetian masters he would later study in the collection of his patron and friend, the banker Pierre Crozat.

Pilgrimage to Cythera is an embellished repetition of his painting of 1717, and exemplifies the frivolity and sensuousness of Rococo painting. (1721, Berlin)

In 1709 Watteau tried to obtain the Prix de Rome and was rejected by the Academy. In 1712 he tried again and was considered so good that, rather than receiving the one-year stay in Rome for which he had applied, he was accepted as a full member of the Academy. He took five years to deliver the required "reception piece", but it was one of his masterpieces: the Pilgrimage to Cythera, also called the Embarkation for Cythera.

Interestingly, while Watteau's paintings seem to epitomize the aristocratic elegance of the Régence (though he actually lived most of his short life under the oppressive climate of Louis XIV's later reign), he never had aristocratic patrons. His buyers were bourgeois such as bankers and dealers.

Although his mature paintings seem to be so many depictions of frivolous fêtes galantes, they in fact display a sober melancholy, a sense of the ultimate futility of life, that makes him, among 18th century painters, one of the closest to modern sensibilities. His many imitators, such as Nicolas Lancret and Jean-Baptiste Pater, borrowed his themes but could not capture his spirit.

Among his most famous paintings, beside the two versions of the Pilgrimage to Cythera (one in the Louvre, the other in the Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin), are Pierrot (long identified as "Gilles"), Fêtes venitiennes, Love in the Italian Theater, Love in the French Theater, "Voulez-vous triompher des belles?" and Mezzetin. The subject of his hallmark painting, Pierrot or Gilles, with his slowly fading smile, seems a confused actor who appears to have forgotten his lines; he has materialized into the fearful reality of existence, sporting as his only armor the pathetic clown costume. The painting may be read as Watteau's wry comment on his mortal illness.
L'Enseigne de Gersaint (1720): In one of Watteau's last paintings, the portrait of Louis XIV and his own artworks are being packed away. The painter had no reason to expect that his name would be remembered long.

Watteau's final masterpiece, the Shop-sign of Gersaint, exits the pastoral forest locale for a mundane urban set of encounters. Painted at Watteau's own insistence, "to take the chill off his fingers", this sign for the shop in Paris of the paintings dealer Edme François Gersaint is effectively the final curtain of Watteau's theatre. It has been described as Watteau's Las Meninas, in that the theme appears to be the promotion of art. The scene is an art gallery where the façade has magically vanished. The gallery and street in the canvas are fused into one contiguous drama.
Watteau's commedia dell'arte player of Pierrot, ca 1718-19, traditionally identified as "Gilles" (Louvre)

Watteau alarmed his friends by a carelessness about his future and financial security, as if foreseeing he would not live for long. In fact he had been sickly and physically fragile since childhood. In 1720, he travelled to London, England to consult Dr Richard Mead, one of the most fashionable physicians of his time and an admirer of Watteau's work. However London's damp and smoky air offset any benefits of Dr. Mead's wholesome food and medicines. Watteau returned to France and spent his last few months on the estate of his patron, Abbé Haranger, where he died in 1721 perhaps from tuberculous laryngitis at the age of 36. The Abbé said Watteau was semi-conscious and mute during his final days, clutching a paint brush and painting imaginary paintings in the air.[1]
La Boudeuse from the Hermitage Museum: "Flirting coquettishly yet innocently, the artist's imaginary heroes – the deliberately indifferent lady and her insistently attentive cavalier – are shown with gentle irony. Their fragile, elegant world is dominated by a lyrical mood with just a touch of elegiac melancholy."[2]

Critical assessment and legacy

Little known during his lifetime beyond a small circle of his devotees, Watteau "was mentioned but seldom in contemporary art criticism and then usually reprovingly".[3] Sir Michael Levey once noted that Watteau "created, unwittingly, the concept of the individualistic artist loyal to himself, and himself alone". If his immediate followers (Lancret and Pater) would depict the unabashed frillery of aristocratic romantic pursuits, Watteau in a few masterpieces anticipates an art about art, the world of art as seen through the eyes of an artist. In contrast to the Rococo whimsicality and licentiousness cultivated by Boucher and Fragonard in the later part of Louis XV's reign, Watteau's theatrical panache is usually tinged with a note of sympathy, wistfulness, and sadness at the transience of love and other earthly delights.

Soon after his death a series of engravings was made after his works, the Receuil Jullienne. The quality of the reproductions, using a mixture of engraving and etching following the practice of the Rubens engravers, varied according to the skill of the people employed by Jean de Jullienne, but was often very high. Such a comprehensive record was hitherto unparalleled. This helped disseminate his influence round Europe and into the decorative arts.

Watteau's influence on the arts (not only painting, but the decorative arts, costume, film, poetry, music) was more extensive than that of almost any other 18th-century artist. According to the 1911 Britannica, "in his treatment of the landscape background and of the atmospheric surroundings of the figures can be found the germs of Impressionism". The Watteau dress, a long, sacklike dress with loose pleats hanging from the shoulder at the back, similar to those worn by many of the women in his paintings, is named after him. A revived vogue for Watteau began in England during the British Regency, and was later encapsulated by the Goncourt brothers and the World of Art. In 1984 Watteau societies were created in Paris, by Jean Ferré , and London, by Dr Selby Whittingham. A major exhibition in Paris, Washington and Berlin commemorated the tercentenary of his birth in 1984. Since 2000 a Watteau centre has been established at Valenciennes by Professor Chris Rauseo. A catalogue of his drawings has been compiled by Pierre Rosenberg, replacing the one by Sir Karl Parker, and Alan Wintermute is preparing one of his paintings.

Lost painting found

La Surprise, painted around 1718, was known only through a copy in the Royal Collection before the original was found during a routine insurance valuation in 2007. The oil painting shows an actor playing a guitar on a stone bench looking across at a couple locked in an amorous embrace. The action is watched by a small dog in the corner. The painting was sold at auction on July 8, 2008 for 15 million Euros; this set a world record price for a painting by Watteau.


The son (Louis Joseph Watteau) and grandson (François-Louis-Joseph Watteau) of Antoine's brother Noël Joseph Watteau (1689–1756) both also became painters.


   1. ^ Dormandy, Thomas. "The white death: the history of tuberculosis". New York University Press, 2000. p.11.
   2. ^
   3. ^ Arnold Hauser. Rococo, Classicism and Romanticism. Routledge (UK), 1999. P. 21.


    * Dormandy, Thomas. "The White Death: the History of Tuberculosis". New York University Press, 2000.
    * Levey, Michael, Rococo to Revolution. Thames and Hudson, 1966.
    * Roland Michel, Marianne, Watteau. Flammarion, 1984.
    * Schneider, Pierre, The World of Watteau. Time-Life Books, 1967.
    * Dacier, E., and Vuaflart, A., Jean de Jullienne et les graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe siecle Paris 1921-9
    * The Watteau Society Bulletin, London.

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