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Jean-Antoine Watteau

1684 - 1721

"The exercise of drawing has infinite charms for him and although sometimes the figure on which he happened to be at work was not a study undertaken with any particular purpose in view, he had the greatest imaginable difficulty in tearing himself away from it."

- Comte de Caylus, 1748

Jean-Antoine Watteau was best known for his paintings of fêtes galantes, a subject that he invented. Fêtes galantes are scenes of elegant gatherings of musicians, actors and aristocrats usually meeting in secluded parks or estates. Watteau was able to depict these scenes lending a psychological acuity to each of the many characters.

Watteau came from a working class Flemish family and apprenticed with the painter Jacques-Albert Gérin. He moved to Paris in 1702 and worked for a scene painter, producing formulary pieces for the mass market. He eventually began working for Claude Audran III an important ornamental painter. He was accepted into the Royal Academy as a painter of fêtes galantes, officially recognizing a new genre of painting.

Watteau was an inveterate draughtsman whose beautiful three chalk drawings are sought after by collectors. These works were so popular that a collector Jean de Jullienne commissioned etchings of his drawings. While best known for fête galantes, Watteau also produced genre scenes of soldiers, historical subjects, as well as theatrical depictions of the figures of the commedia dell’arte.

Jean-Antoine Watteau
© Bridgeman-Giraudon / Art Resource, NY

Birth name

Jean-Antoine Watteau

Born

Born in Valenciennes, France, 10 October 1684

Died

Died in Nogent-sur-Marne, France, 18 July 1721

Nationality

French

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