Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) had found his fortune when genre painting came back into favour and was admitted to the ranks of the Academy in 1717, with the term fête galante being coined to describe the subject of his works. Fêtes Vénitiennes (c.1718-1719) acquired its title from an engraving made after it, published in 1732. Watteau included himself as the seated musician playing a musette; the central dancer may be the leading actress Charlotte Desmares, who was mistress of the Duc d'Orlean.
Antoine Watteau Timeline
- 1684 - Antoine Watteau born in Valenciennes.
- 1702 - Watteau made his way to Paris and in time entered the studio of Claude Gillot, who directed his pupil's attention to the scenes of the Italian Comedy and to decoration.
- 1708 - Watteau studied with Claude Audran, one of the first decorative artists of the day and custodian of the Luxembourg. Here he was able to study the Marie de' Medici decorations by Rubens and feast his imagination on the vistas of landscape in the palace gardens.
- 1710 to 1712 - Watteau had painted the first of his three versions of the L'Embarquement pour l'ile de Cythère.
- Louix XV became King of France. As French society began to seek relief from the eternal routine of court life in private entertaining, and the hotels of the Faubourg St. Germain rivaled one another in elegance the smaller apartment and salon were in vogue, and the skill and inventiveness of French designers were expended in converting the heavier and more elaborate furnishings and decorations of Louis XIV into the exquisite refinements of the style of Louis XV.
- Watteau took up his abode with Crozat, the collector of old masters in whose gallery he became acquainted with Venetian painting.
- Start of the period of Watteau's major paintings, including the fetes galantes.
Eugène Delacroix's (1798-1863) put together a critique of Watteau and, incidentally, of the artifice behind Rococo painting.
Journal of Eugène Delacroix, Paris, 15 March 1858 Avantage des fonds clairs.
C'est ce qui est tres remarquable dans le Watteau; il y a meme plusieurs parties qui ont la meme valeur que leurs fonds respectifs; ainsi les bas, des souliers gris ou jaunatres, etc..., ne s'enlevent du terrain que par des parties legerement plus foncees ca et la, etc...
II faudrait d'autres Watteau pour etudier l'artifice de son effet.
Dans mon Watteau, les arbres du fond, quoique a un plan peu recule, sont extremement clairs: il ne s'y trouve pas un seul ton, non plus que dans les tombeaux, qui rivalise meme de loin pour la vigueur avec ceux du premier plan. II en resulte meme un defaut de liaison que je trouve choquant quand je le compare avec mon Trajan; chaque petite figure est isolee, et on voit trop clairement qu'elle a ete faite a loisir, independamment de ses voisines.
"Watteau's trees are painted 'according to a formula'; they are always alike and remind one more of theatrical scenery than of forest trees."
Watteau's interest in decorative patterns and skills as a draftsman are combined in the greenery of his paintings which matches to patterns found in nature; the woodland floor of Fêtes Vénitiennes is covered in what appears to fern-like fractal patterns. Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) respected the skill of the arrangement of Watteau, within their admittedly theatrical settings. Overall Delacroix's approach is more scientific insofar as his trees have a realistic structure; two large oaks form the backdrop to Jacob Wrestling with the Angel (1856-1861), like stage scenery, but which he has equipped with a definitive form. The Journal of Eugène Delacroix entry for 6 May 1852 explains how he recognised repeating patterns between apparently dissimilar objects.
The excessive use of oil as a paint medium is a feature of works by Watteau. The canvas for Fêtes Vénitiennes (c.1718-1719) was prepared with a grey ground containing lead white and with paint applied alla prima; for Watteau this gave the advantage that he could work more quickly; the use of rapid, sketch like alla prima painting technique later became popular from the 1850's onwards, as it facilitated the recording of natural effects.
Drawing underpinned Watteau's painting and he kept hundreds of figure studies and landscape sketches in bound volumes, in respect of which his works have an affinity to those of his compatriot Paul Gauguin.
Fêtes Vénitiennes is on display in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.