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Jean-Antoine Watteau

Biographie:
N Valenciennes, le 10 octobre 1684, fils dun matre-couvreur, marchand de tuiles, JeanAntoine Watteau , ds l'ge de dix ans, est mis en apprentissage chez Jacques-Albert Grin, lun des peintres renomms de la ville, dont le muse et les glises de Valenciennes conservent quelques ouvrages dans le got flamand. Antoine Watteau sinstalle Paris en 1702 la mort de Grin et tudie auprs du graveur et dcorateur de thtre Claude Gillot, qui lui communique son got pour la commedia dellArte italienne, pour les masques et les mascarades, les fantaisies galantes, les arabesques figurines, les mythologies et les singeries. Par la suite, le peintre aura la possibilit dtudier toute une srie de toiles baroques de Rubens, qui le marquent profondment. En 1709, Watteau remporte le second prix de Rome. Trois ans plus tard, en 1712, il postule de nouveau. Son uvre fut juge dune si grande qualit quil fut lu comme membre de plein droit de lAcadmie. En 1717 il prsenta son morceau de rception, le fameux "Plerinage lle de Cythre", toile mlancolique et mystrieuse. LAcadmie crera un genre spcialement pour lui : la "fte galante". Watteau mourra d'une maladie pulmonaire en 1721, l'ge de 37 ans chez son ami EdmFranois Gersaint. Ses uvres influenceront les impressionnistes par la lgret de latmosphre qui les nimbent. Jean-Antoine, le premier, introduit dans la peinture les joies de la vie rustique, les pastorales, les jeux de bergers et bergres. Ainsi il a su crer un monde potique o les ftes galantes se clbrent avec faste.

Rococo:
Le rococo est un mouvement artistique europen du XVIIIe sicle touchant principalement larchitecture, mais galement les arts dcoratifs, ainsi que la peinture et, dans une moindre mesure, la musique et la littrature. Il se dveloppa de 1730 1770, principalement dans le Saint Empire Romain Germanique (Allemagne, Autriche, Bohme), en Europe du Sud (Italie, Espagne, Portugal), la suite du mouvement baroque, pour crer un style d'une grande prodigalit, particulirement dans les glises et dans les lieux sacrs. Ce style culmina dans l'uvre de l'architecte et dcorateur bavarois d'origine flamande Franois de Cuvillis, dont le pavillon d'Amalienburg (1734-1739) Nymphenburg prs de Munich demeure un exemple ingal de parfaite fusion entre architecture et dcoration. Ce mouvement est progressivement remplac partir de 1760 par le noclassicisme qui, tel un mouvement de pendule, est un retour laustrit, ou du moins un retour aux canons de l'Antiquit.

Lorigine du terme rococo:


Le terme rococo fut invent vers 1797. Cest une association du mot franais rocaille , qui dsigne une ornementation imitant les rochers et les pierres naturelles et la forme incurve de certains coquillages et du mot portugais baroco baroque . Le terme rococo garda longtemps son aspect pjoratif avant dtre accept par les historiens de lart vers le milieu du XIXe sicle et dtre considr comme un mouvement artistique europen part entire.

La commedia dell'Arte:
La commedia dell'Arte est un genre de thtre populaire italien apparu avec les premires troupes de comdie avec masque, en 1528. Signifiant littralement : thtre interprt par des gens de lart ; autrement dit; des comdiens professionnels, le terme est, de nos jours, utilis dans de nombreuses langues, dont le franais. Elle tient ses racines des ftes du rire qui sont la base de grands carnavals. Le comique tait principalement gestuel. La plupart des acteurs taient des gymnastes de premier ordre capables de donner un soufflet avec le pied, ou dexcuter dans lintrieur de la salle de spectacle des ascensions prilleuses. Beaucoup dinitiative leur tait laisse et la verve de parole de lacteur, son talent mimique faisaient la plus grande partie du succs de la commedia dell'Arte. Les comdies se basaient sur des personnages bien reconnaissables et des caractres strotyps, avec une gestuelle emphatique, dialogues improviss, interludes musicaux et bouffonneries, pour satisfaire un vaste public. En France, les personnages comme Arlecchino (Harlequin) et Pedrolino (Pierrot ou Gilles) apparassent.

Fte galante:
Nom donn, essentiellement dans la peinture franaise du XVIIIe sicle, aux scnes de plein air montrant des couples d'amoureux runis dans des jardins ou des parcs, occups des divertissements de socit ou faisant de la musique. Rubens, reprenant des thmes vnitiens, est l'origine de ce genre (Jardin d'amour, Prado), dont Watteau s'est fait l'illustre et gnial spcialiste. Aprs la mort de Louis XIV en 1715, laristocratie franaise dlaisse les splendeurs de la cour de Versailles pour les maisons de ville plus intimes de Paris o ils peuvent sadonner jouer, lgamment vtus, fleureter et se mettre en scne daprs la commedia dellArte italienne.

La fte galante est troitement lie la fte champtre dont elle peut tre considre comme un type.

Borrowings of Watteau:
Watteau took his motives from very dissimilar artists, but Rubens remained his main source. 1) The dog in Watteau's Charmes de la Vie was borrowed from Rubens's Coronation of Marie de Medici. 2) The beautiful cupids in the second version of the Embarquement pour l'le de Cythre, this group has been taken from Rubens's Echange des deux princesses, which belongs to the same series of Marie de Medici's story. But there is a difference between those two garlands of figures. Watteau made some small alterations, omitted the wings and draperies and copied the whole in reverse. 3) In Watteau's Triomphe de Cers, both the dancing girls to the left and right of the car are borrowed from the famous composition of the Bolognese master, The triumph of Bacchus and Ariadne.

Analyse des peintures:


1) The Shepherds- 1717-19 Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin
Watteaus The Shepherds can be considered an outstanding, although somewhat atypical example of his ftes galantes. From their costume, we can identify the figures as upper-class city dwellers enjoying an outing in the countryside. While the couple on the right dances in a courtly manner, the level of decorum declines sharply towards the left. In the background is a woman on a swing, apparently set in motion by a man to her right; this was readily understood to symbolize flirtation, changes of heart (and of partners), and the act of love-making itself. It is significant that the swing is seen through a window of greenery, as through a peephole- a view into a moment of intimacy, and into the meaning of the main scene. Between the dancers and the figures around the swing, two couples and two lone men form a densely knit group. In an unusually open way, Watteau comments on the erotic character and the underlying sexual motives of the encounter. One man aggressively pursues the woman next to him, whose nude breast he is trying to grasp. Another couple behind them watches the dancers, as does an elegant man reclining in the foreground, whose rather inelegant thoughts are openly acted out by the dog at the front of the scene. An older man with long blonde hair is the central figure. Watteau stresses his importance by his frontal position, his isolation within the group (in age, dress, and position), and by the trunks of two large trees right behind him that

frame his head and call attention to him. His instrument (a musette de cour) is a common symbol of the male sexual organ. By bringing together heterogeneous pictorial elements- a swing, courtly dancers, a bagpipe player, a rural landscape setting- Watteau continued the approach of his early arabesque, where diverse elements are combined in an emphatically illogical and spatially incongruous fashion. In such paintings as The Shepherds, the artist fuses these elements into one logical whole.

2) LEmbarquement pour lle de Cythre- 1717-18 Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin


Embarkation for Cythera Story / Theme:
The Embarkation for Cythera is an allegorical love story at its finest. Historians still debate whether the pilgrims are on their way to the island or in fact preparing to leave. The majority leans towards their leaving. No matter the location, a group of young couples enjoy another on the densely vegetated island. The focus falls on three couples in particular who occupy the center right. The sitting couple is absorbed in a flirtatious conversation and the pair standing is preparing to take their place on the boat. The last admirer helps the object of his affection. Other happy couples are boarding the boat. The cupids are hovering about the vessel; they are excited about the lover's journey.

Embarkation for Cythera Inspirations for the Work:


Watteau's inspiration for The Embarkation for Cythera culminated from a few different sources. He was inspired by fantastical geographical locations as well as from his beloved theater. Cythera: Known as Kithira, in Modern Greek, Cythera is a southernmost and easternmost island of the Ionian Islands. It has a mountainous interior, rising to 1,663 feet. In Antiquity, Cythera was believed to be the birthplace of Aphrodite - Greek goddess of love - and thus became known as the Isle of Love. Watteau's portrayal of Cythera is perhaps the best deception the most vivid imagination could conjure up. His is an island of love, a paradise decorated with brightly colored landscapes that would enchant even the most plutonic friends to accept the invitation of love. Cupids can be seen flying over the boat, though their services may not be needed as nature does the flirting and mesmerizing quite effectively.

Les Trois Cousines: This was a prose play by French comedy and tragedy playwright Florent Dancourt and it may have been an inspiration for The Embarkation for Cythera as a group of youths disguised as pilgrims of love prepare for a voyage to Cythera in the finale. Yet this may be the only similarity to Watteau's painting - Dancourt's sarcastic parody would be a spotty reflection of Watteau's happy and hazy dream. La Ventienne: Houdar de la Motte's opera ballet seems a more likely inspiration for The Embarkation for Cythera as it featured stock characters of the Commedia dell'Arte and other pilgrims who accepted the invitation to the island of love. Watteau pursued both of these themes.

Embarkation for Cythera Analysis:


In his famous reception piece for the Acadmie, Watteau shocked the judges with his original style. His revival of colors reminiscent to earlier centuries and the lighting of his piece were particularly striking. Composition: All elements of The Embarkation for Cythera are in a head-on perspective. Watteau employs certain techniques to ensure that the viewer looks at his entire composition. The progression of the pilgrims returning to the boat draws attention to the three main couples in the center, who in a lover's trance, lost track of time. Viewers then glance upward as the space of the canvas is filled with a hazy sky. From there, the viewer is enamored by a beautiful landscape as the clouds bring the focus downward. Tone: The theme of this piece cannot help but bring about a happy, peaceful mood. There is no sign of anguish, broken hearts or turmoil in any capacity. Instead, lovers prance around together and cupids fly overhead. Clearly, Watteau intended The Embarkation for Cythera to give the notion of a fine fantasy. Brushstrokes: Watteau was known for using a light and airy brushstroke to create his hazy dream-like atmospheres. This is particularly evident in the wispy clouds and lazy leaves. Color Palette: The landscape's bright palette echoes that of 16th century Venetian paintings. The neutral palette of the landscape is complemented nicely by the pastels of the lover's costumes. Lighting:

The lighting cast in this dream plays up the bright colors of the character's clothing. The center of the canvas lights up the three main couples and the shadows retreat to play in the trees so less attention is paid to other characters.

3) La Boudeuse- 1718
La Boudeuse Story / Theme:
Much unlike his other, happier works where his characters enjoy the gayness of the festivities, Watteau's La Boudeuse or Capricious Girl tells a tale of thwarted, frustrated love. The girl appears flirty by nature but her posture reveals a haughtier attitude. She sits up straight, her back turned to her pursuer. One must take note of her flustered cheeks - perhaps the gentleman behind her has said something flirtatious to embarrass her. Maybe her interests are peaked and the flushing of her cheeks reveals her excitement. Or, it is possible that the man has gone too far and has said something to enrage her. It could be that the moment before she was facing him - but now, annoyed with his inappropriateness, she has turned her back refusing to look at him, her posture now rigid. Conversely, the man's posture is of the opposite nature. He leans on his arm, head cocked, staring at her. At best he's hoping that she will relax even if it's just enough to turn her head slightly to look him in the eyes, or even better, give him a wink. He's waiting for some kind of signal, but it seems even his patience is about to run out.

La Boudeuse Inspirations for the Work:


Love was often the inspiration for all of Watteau's works. He relished in the actions, expressions and feelings that came about with love. The artist sometimes displayed happy lovers; women flirting with their suitors, feigning interest, or he showed scenes where the woman was not interested in the man at all. La Boudeuse, also called the Capricious Girl, is often translated as the flirtatious girl. Though her stance seems rigid and unwilling, perhaps Watteau wants us to read further into her flushing cheeks.

La Boudeuse Analysis:
La Boudeuse is perhaps Watteau's most blatant portrayal of love. With no kooky characters from the Commedia dell'Arte, no musicians, and without bright wardrobes to distract the viewers, Watteau's intended frustration is obvious with just the young girl and man to focus on. Composition:

The canvas is closer to a square, a change from the more rectangular works common for Watteau. He positions the anxious couple to the left of the square, their bodies filling a fifth of the frame. A sparse landscape is in the distant foreground. Like the majority of Watteau's paintings, the perspective is head-on. Tone: The smug face and strict upright position of the young girl creates a subtly hostile mood. This is especially noticeable in contrast to the lax pose of the man behind her. The difference in their attitudes exemplifies the sexual frustration looming in the air. Brushstroke: Watteau's brushstroke in La Boudeuse creates a thick texture. Color palette: True to the style of Rococo, Watteau paints with a warm, neutral palette. The colors play quite nicely together and blend well, except for the light blue peaking out through the clouds. Lighting: The uppermost part of the painting is brighter than the lower portion. The girl's face is the most lit, her pursuer's face (just a head beneath her) a little less dim, and finally the remainder of her dress the least dimly lit.

4) Mezzetin- 1718-20 The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York


One of Watteaus most celebrated paintings, Mezzetin, is also among his simplest and most expensive. In a lush corner of a garden, the commedia dellArte clown, Mezzetin, sits on a stone bench, legs crossed, strumming a guitar. He casts his eyes upwards as he sings, perhaps toward an unseen balcony on the building at his left. Behind him is a marble statue of Venus with his back turned to him- a surrogate for the lady to whom Mezzetin pours out his heart in serenade. As Watteau makes clear, in the eloquent language of statutory so familiar from his paintings, the lady does not share his ardour. The actor had a famously expressive face, and he performed the role without the conventional mask of the commedia, henceforth, all Mezzetins kept this custom. As Franois Mourreau observed, it is probable that this innovation was a significant reason for Watteaus attraction to the character, who appears frequently in his art. Luigi Riccoboni, director of the Comdie Italienne from 1716 and himself a celebrated Mezzetin, described the character as a scheming servantalways involved in swindles and disguises. But Watteau sees the poet in the clown and recognizes the bittersweet comedy in his luckless longing. The quasi religious aspect of the painting has often been noted due in part to

the heavenward role of mezzetins upturned eyes so reminiscent of the expression of suffering saints in Baroque altarpieces. The gentle fall of light on his face, the remarkable foreshortened perspective of his features, and the sharp flickering accents on his parted lips and piercing eyes communicate an aching but ecstatic longing that serves to render this portrait of Loves martyr exceptional in Watteaus uvre, and an unsurpassed image of romantic aspiration and torment. Watteau has taken great pains to reproduce the comedians elaborately striped satin tunic and pantaloons, but, typically, he deviates from tradition by introducing pale blue stripes into a costume that should be white and red only, and by rendering Mezzetins beret in rose-coloured silk, rather than in the same fabric as the tunic. Although Watteau did not generally make drawings with particular compositions in mind, his famous study for Mezzetin seems to be an exception. The unusual position of the models head, his upturned glance, and the way the light falls across his face all suggest that Watteau had already laid out the composition of his painting and made the study in order to work out the final nuances of his subjects expression; the faint chalk lines around the head indicate the position of the large beret that the actor wears in the painting. Many of his figures appear isolated, scarcely aware of their fellow actors in the composition, and, all too frequently, they have their backs turned towards us. The Mezzetin is a typical example. Here, the musician plays to an unseen lady while, behind him, the statue of a woman faces stonily away into the distance, in an attitude of cold rejection. Usually, the wistful atmosphere of the ftes galantes is interpreted as a reflection of Watteaus sickly constitution. Love, happiness and health are portrayed with great poetic sensibility, but they are seen from a distance as bounties which cannot be shared by the artist who depicts them. Even the players involved in the idylls seem aware that their happiness cannot last.

5) Pierrot or Gilles- 1719 Louvre, Paris


Pierrot formerly known as Gilles Story / Theme:
The subject of Pierrot (meaning an actor, masquerader, or buffoon) is unclear. It may have been a theatrical sign for a caf or it could have been a sign for a fairground show. Generally the character of Pierrot in the Commedia dell'Arte was staged to be the fool. Watteau's sad clown has reason to be sad as he may be destined for a broken heart. Traditionally, the Pierrot's love interest, Columbine, leaves him for Harlequin. Despite his fate, the character of Pierrot is trusting and proves to be nave, moonstruck and distant to reality. It is unknown whether Watteau himself was the inspiration for this piece, as some critics believe this to be a self-portrait, or whether the character of Pierrot was a friend of his, an actor, or an entirely fictional character all together. No matter who inspired the sad clown, this piece, like Watteau's other paintings, revolves around the theater. Such inspiration can go as far back to Watteau's time spent working with set

designer Claude Gillot. Gillot introduced Watteau to the theater, specifically the Italian Commedia dell'Arte. In this piece Pierrot is the main attraction on the stage but is not the only character from the Commedia dell'Arte feature in his painting; the doctor on his donkey, the lovers Leander and Isabella, and the captain also make an appearance. Where style is concerned, Watteau's inspiration is borrowed from interior designer Claude Audran III whom he worked with after Gillot. His airy style can be attributed to what he learned with Audran. Watteau transformed the style that had begun to dominate interior design into his paintings.

Pierrot formerly known as Gilles Analysis:


Watteau paid special attention to the composition, coloring, lighting and perspective of each piece. Composition: Pierrot draws the viewer's attention. His ballooning midsection is attention grabbing enough and his presence is at an elevated center stage. Still, he seems to go unnoticed by his fellow characters. Somehow, despite his external loudness, his inner quietness causes him to blend in. He is all alone in his world on stage. The viewer wonders whether to feel sympathy or overlook him and share the apathetic sentiments towards this lonely character. Tone: It seems that the artist took the generalized notion of the Pierrot into account, as his portrayal of the subject shows him looking down with arms to his side. Though his expression is questionable, his gesture seems to denote that of confusion. Perhaps he wonders how it happened that his love left him. It is also possible that he is still love struck and the heart break has yet to happen. Use of light: While his face remains in the shadow for the most part, the right side more heavily than the left, it is interesting that Watteau chose to highlight the belly of Pierrot; he draws particular attention to what is clearly the most unflattering part of the character. May be Pierrot's face doesn't matter; not to himself, the people around him, or the viewer. May be not even to the artist. It is indeed a sad face, a theme contrasting Watteau's happier works of people enjoying love and flirting. Pierrot is not part of any festive group. His silly wardrobe stands in strong opposition to his counterparts. He does not fit in. Perspective:

Pierrot is seen head-on, enveloped by the characters below him and the trees surrounding him. The negative space in the upper left-hand corner draws attraction to his confused expression. Color palette: Watteau portrays all of this through light brushstrokes and equally delicate colors. He paints with a mostly neutral palette except for the laces of Pierrot's shoes and the bright red costume below him.

6) L'Enseigne de Gersaint- 1721 Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin


L'Enseigne de Gersaint Story / Theme:
Watteau's stay in the home of friend Edm-Francois Gersaint inspired L'Enseigne de Gersaint (the interior of Gersaint) and the theme very much centers on the sale of art. Watteau approached this final masterpiece very differently than his other works. He normally painted slowly, but the last painting he would leave to the world would be the exception. Perhaps Watteau's deteriorating health sped up the process, enabling him to complete a piece much larger than he normally painted in a miraculous eight days. Watteau desired to paint a signboard of the interior of Gersaint's impressive gallery to ease the numbing effects his illness brought to his fingers. It would hang just beneath the sign of the name of the gallery. Within the painted gallery, several elite individuals who purchase art are unaffected by the mysteriously disappearing faade and are more preoccupied in attaining their desired pieces. The workers of the gallery put the purchased art in boxes while a dog sleeps in the corner. Though this piece is not a precise depiction of Gersaint's gallery, it provides viewers with insight into the elite establishment of a robust and thriving French gallery. It captures the high class clientele and the thriving trade that made the art emporium a vital part of the 18th century French art market.

L'Enseigne de Gersaint Inspirations for the Work:


Besides the aching numbness Watteau experience in his fingers due to ill health, he drew from the interior of his friend's art gallery. Gersaint was a successful art dealer, and a kind friend who opened his home to Watteau.

Interiors of picture galleries were a popular subject for enlightened art collectors and served as a record of identification. Though L'Enseigne de Gersaint may not truly depict Gersaint's interior, one can still admire the art seller's choices in paintings, two of which possibly belong to Ricci or Rubens. Rubens was a master Baroque painter whom Watteau studied very closely, especially his Medici series.

L'Enseigne de Gersaint Analysis:


Watteau's intent for L'Enseigne de Gersaint, besides promoting art sales, focused mainly on personal growth and the satisfaction that came along with such success. Watteau had valued his drawings more highly than his paintings and was continually frustrated that he could not capture this quality in paint. But as one can see in L'Enseigne de Gersaint, there is a naturalness to his figures that isn't seen in his earlier paintings. This piece was liberation for Watteau; in his last piece, he finally achieved one of his most important aims. Composition: The viewer looks at the twelve figures from a head-on perspective. Watteau divides the twelve into two separate groups which made it possible to separate the painting into two parts. He fills the majority of the foreground with the paintings of Gersaint's gallery. There is, however, a pooch in the lower right hand corner that sleeps in the dreamy shadows. Tone: The mood of this piece illustrates the grandness and excitement of buying art. The women dress in fancy clothes, as eager to purchase art as they may be to attend a royal Ball. Their male counterparts are dressed equally as fine; their wardrobe's suggesting how seriously they were about the sale. Watteau suggests such an event as a social get together. Brushstrokes: The effectiveness of the lighting in this piece was achieved through the artist's light and rapid brushstroke. Color palette: Though the grandeur of his landscapes is missing in this painting, the coloring of this piece is just as fascinating. The cool colors of the women's silk dresses serve as a wonderful contrast to the otherwise neutral, warm palette. Lighting: If we pay attention to the courting between the shadow and the light of the silk dresses, it is hard to believe that any artist could complete such a complicated fabric in just eight days. Watteau's skill with the treatment of light created the form of the figure that he so badly wanted to translate from his drawings into his paintings. The dim interior of the gallery makes

the silk stand out even more, and one can imagine how the shadows danced toward the light as the ladies moved around to view the art on display. If painting consists, not in the expression of tragedies upon a canvas, but in inventing with poetic feeling, an impressing by color, Watteau is the greatest of French painters. None has surpassed him in his love of nature and his feeling for the ideal. - De Banville