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Jean-Antoine Watteau was born on Oct.

Jean-Antoine Watteau Artworks

In he traveled to Paris, where he supported himself by turning out religious pictures and copying the works of popular Dutch artists. In he began studying with Claude Gillot. Gillot, who designed and executed scenery for the stage, passed on to Watteau his love of the Italian theater and the characters from the commedia dell'arte. In Watteau began working with Claude Audran, who had the care of the treasures at the Luxembourg Palace.

This collection included a group of scenes from the life of Marie de' Medici painted in the early s by the Flemish master Peter Paul Rubens. Rubens's influence can also be seen in Watteau's work. In Watteau returned to Valenciennes, where he executed a series of military scenes. In the years he painted the first of three versions of the myth of Cythera, the island of love for which pilgrims embark but never arrive. The paintings represented impossible dreams, the revenge of madness on reason and of freedom on moral rules.

Watteau returned to Paris and in was befriended by Pierre Crozat, a rich financier and art collector who owned a splendid collection of Flemish and Italian paintings and who admired Watteau's paintings.

Jean-Antoine Watteau ( - ) | National Gallery, London

Watteau lived for a time in the residence of Crozat, but after a while he left to live in seclusion. This began the period of his major paintings, including the fetes galantes. By Watteau was suffering from tuberculosis. In he returned to Paris and stayed with his friend E. Gersaint, an art dealer. For him he did Enseigne de Gersaint , a painting of the interior of Gersaint's shop intended for use as a signboard. Although a repetitive job, the daily tasks served to help Watteau develop many aspects to his talent, including the development of his characteristic sketch-like technique.

This second rate painting occupation was transformed when he met the painter Claude Gillot, designer of costumes and stage sets inspired by themes from the Italian commedia dell'arte, a troupe of traveling actors noted for satirical improvisation. Watteau met Gillot in , and was hired as his assistant soon afterwards. Gillot was a pioneer of art, as well as a bit of rebel.

Antoine Watteau

Gillot openly went against the approved genre of official art commissioned under Louis XIV's reign. It was in Gillot's studio that Watteau was introduced to what would become a lifelong passion. The commedia dell'arte was a subject often painted by Gillot, even though its actors were expelled from France several years earlier. It was during this time that Watteau began painting this subject matter as well.

It was through acquaintance and admiration of Audran that Watteau began to pay particular attention to the elegance epitomized in his drawings. Audran served as curator of the Palais. Watteau was so impressed by the work of Rubens, and with various Venetian masters in general, that he spent endless hours studying them. These artists inspired him to implement even more elegance and movement into his creations. Watteau also found inspiration from the collection of his patron and friend, the banker Pierre Crozat, one of the foremost collectors of drawings in the eighteenth century.

While studying with Audran, Watteau made important contributions to the art world.

Antoine Watteau

These decorations were based on oriental subject matter and various monkey motifs. The design was then applied to various foundations, including panels, furniture and porcelain. In , Watteau tried to obtain the highly sought after Prix de Rome.

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The Prix was an art scholarship to Italy. However, the Academy that decides the scholarship turned Watteau down. Not accepting failure as an option, Watteau applied himself to his craft even more and tried again for the prize in Watteau was surprised to find that the Academy now regarded his talent as being so great, that instead of offering him the Prix de Rome, they instead offered him a position as a full member of the Academy.


To complete his membership, Watteau was required to create a reception piece. It took him five years to complete, but Pilgrimage to Cythera or the Embarkation for Cythera turned out to be one of his most famous masterpieces. These two versions of the same painting epitomize French Rococo at its peak. The elegant men and women are displayed in their shimmering silks. The painting is adorned with rose-cheeked cherubs. All these details are indicative of the style of this movement.

It was with this painting that Watteau became known as the painter of the Fetes Galantes.

Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721)

As Watteau made a living as a painter, he found his eager buyers in the class of the bourgeois. There was an ever present irony in the paintings of Watteau; he painted the upper class, but sold these paintings to the middle class. He painted elegance and refinement, but lived most of his life under the oppressive reign of Louis XIV. Antoine Watteau possessed a certain spirit that was captured in his paintings.

Although many artists tried to capture his talent in their own works, they generally fell short. In Watteau's treatment of the landscape background and of the atmospheric surroundings of the figures can be found the germs of impressionism. The subject of his hallmark painting is Pierrot or Gilles, shown in a pathetic clown costume, with a fading smile. Watteau's final masterpiece, the Shop-sign of Gersaint was effectively the final curtain of Watteau's theater. The apparent theme of the painting appears to be the promotion of art. Watteau has taken the setting of the gallery and fused it with that of the street to create one contiguous drama.

As Watteau grew in talent and age, many of his closest friends became alarmed as he adopted a careless attitude about securing a financially stable future. Many of them worried that Watteau, who suffered from several illnesses, was aware that his life might be brief.