Watteau, Jean-Antoine

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Watteau, Jean-Antoine

Jean-Antoine Watteau (wätō´, Fr. zhäN´-äNtwäN´ vätō´), 1684–1721, French painter of Flemish descent, b. Valenciennes. Until 1704 poverty forced him to work in the shops of mediocre artists, where he produced genre and devotional subjects. In 1704–8 he studied in the studio of Claude Gillot, an adept painter of scenes of theatrical life, which later became the subject of some of Watteau's finest paintings, such as Love in the Italian Theatre and Love in the French Theatre (both: Berlin). In 1708–9 Watteau worked with the decorator Claude Audran. Watteau attracted the attention of eminent patrons in his last years, including the comte de Caylus, his biographer, and in 1717 he was made a full member of the Académie royale. The Embarkation for Cythera (1717; Louvre) is characteristic of his art; it is a delicate, courtly fantasy, represented in warm and shimmering pastel tones that place him among the great colorists of all time. A lyric, Giorgionesque quality pervades his airy, gay, and sensuous scenes, which have a poignancy that none of his followers attained. Out of the most fleeting aspects of life he created an enduring and individual art. His exquisite paintings influenced fashion and garden design in the 18th cent. Other outstanding works include Gilles (Louvre), Perspective (Mus. of Fine Arts, Boston), Mezzetin (Metropolitan Mus.), and Gersaint's Shop Sign (1719; Berlin). Watteau was also a superb draftsman. Many of his exquisite drawings are known only from engravings.

See his complete paintings (introd. by J. Sunderland and notes by E. Camesasca, 1971); studies by A. Brookner (1967), R. Huygne (1970), K. T. Parker (1931, repr. 1970), and M. Cormack (1971); Y. Zolotov, Antoine Watteau: Paintings and Drawings from Soviet Museums (1985).

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