Catholic Encyclopedia (1913)/Jean Antoine Watteau
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Jean Antoine Watteau
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French painter, and founder and leader of the school usually known as that of the painters of Les Fêtes Galantes; born at Valenciennes, 1684, died near Paris, 1721. Young Watteau was a very clever boy, constantly sketching, and as quite a youth was taken to the studio of Gerin, who gave him his first education. He received, however, no sympathy at home, but, on the contrary, was urged to give up draughtsmanship. He therefore left Valenciennes, and tramped to Paris, where he arrived without a friend or a penny, and nearly starved. At first he commenced as a sign-board painter, but in 1703 was fortunate enough to be received into the studio of Gillot, with whom he remained for five years, and then became the assistant of Audran, one of the first artists of his day, and the keeper of the Luxembourg. Audran discovered his skill, but was inclined to keep him in his studio as his pupil and assistant, and to prevent him engaging in original work. Watteau, however, painted a small military picture, called "Le Départ," which was sold to a dealer in Paris. From the funds obtained by this sale, Watteau revisited his parents, but quickly returned to Paris. He then came under the notice of M. de Crozat, who introduced him to many artists, gave him the free run of his house and gallery, and encouraged him. During this time Watteau produced some of his best pictures, and was received by the Academy under the title of "Le Peintre des Fêtes Galantes" in 1717, where his position was at once secured. It was at this time that he produced his great picture, "The Embarkment for Cythera", which created a great sensation in Paris, and was the beginning of quite a new epoch in art. Watteau was always more or less in poor health, and two years after painting his great picture came over to London to consult Dr. Meade, for whom he painted two important pictures. He then returned to Paris, and executed the great sign- board picture designed for his friend Gersaint, but, his health failing in Paris, he had to leave for a house which he had obtained at Nogent-sur-Marne. It was there soon after that he died. Watteau produced a great number of pictures, exquisite in colour, movement, composition, and in a peculiar sense of flutter which distinguishes his works. He was also a superb draughtsman and left behind him a number of drawings bull of life and piquancy. He was an engraver, responsible for several etchings. His paintings stand quite alone in art, representing the gay and vivacious life of the period, with ideal forms and circumstances, and picturing the frivolity of his epoch extravagantly no doubt, but with great beauty and extraordinary charm. His finest works are those in Berlin, London, (the Wallace Collection), Paris (the Case Collection), Potsdam (the two collections at Sans Souci and the New Palace), and the Condé Museum at Chantilly. Besides these, there are great works by him at Brunswick, Cassel, Brussels, St. Petersburgh, Nantes, Orleans, Stockholm, Dresden, Edinburgh, and Glasgow. The chief artists of his school were Lancret ant Pater, and their paintings approached more nearly than any others to the works of Watteau himself.
The chief work on Watteau is that of DE JULIENNE, a colossal volume published in Paris in 1734. Reference should also be made to a life of Watteau by DINAUX issued in his native town in 1834; to a treatise published at Leipzig in 1896 by ROSENBERG; an important work issued in Berlin by BODE in 1883; DILKE, French Painters of the Eighteenth Century (London, 1889); the treatise of Watteau by MUNTZ, issued in Paris, in 1885; various other works on the artist by PHILLIPS, PATER, STALEY, BLANC, and others.