Saturday Art: Jean-Antoine Watteau

Pleasures of the Ball by Watteau

Pleasures of the Ball by Watteau

(Picture courtesy of Irina at

Nymph and Satyr by Watteau

Nymph and Satyr by Watteau

(Picture courtesy of Jean Louis Mazziere at

Remarkable animation of the spirit of his time seems to have been the major characteristic that brought Jean-Antoine Watteau to the ranks of foremost artists, and gave him distinction there.

One of the most brilliant and original artists of the eighteenth century, Antoine Watteau (1684–1721) had an impact on the development of Rococo art in France and throughout Europe lasting well beyond his lifetime. Living only thirty-six years, and plagued by frequent illness, Watteau nonetheless rose from an obscure provincial background to achieve fame in the French capital during the Regency of the duc d’Orléans. His paintings feature figures in aristocratic and theatrical dress in lush imaginary landscapes. Their amorous and wistful encounters create a mood but do not employ narrative in the traditional sense. During Watteau’s lifetime, a new term, fête galante, was coined to describe them. Watteau was also a gifted draftsman whose sparkling chalk sheets capture subtle nuances of deportment and expression.


Despite his unconventional training, Watteau was permitted to compete for the Prix de Rome at the Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture. He won a second-place prize in 1709, but to his great disappointment was never sent to study in Italy. With the backing of Charles de La Fosse (1636–1716), a fellow admirer of Rubens and Venetian painting, Watteau was accepted into the Academy in 1712. His innovative subject matter did not fit into any established category in the academic hierarchy, and he was ultimately accepted with the unprecedented title “painter of fêtes galantes.” His reception piece, Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera (Musée du Louvre, Paris), was finally submitted to the Academy in 1717. It depicted amorous couples on the mythical island of Cythera, in various stages of their metaphoric “journey” of love.


Admiration for the drawings of Watteau has always been equal to that of his paintings. He drew few compositional studies; for the most part, his graphic oeuvre is made up of chalk studies of heads or figures. In contrast to prevailing practice, Watteau seems usually not to have made figure studies in preparation for predetermined compositions, but apparently filled sketchbooks with incisive renderings of figures drawn from life, which he would later mine for his painted compositions. A drawing of a Seated Woman (1975.1.763), for example, has captured all the spontaneity and grace of a young woman’s natural movements, yet does not seem to have been used in a painted composition.

Although he limited himself to chalk, there is a clear evolution in the technique of Watteau’s drawings. His earliest studies are in red chalk alone, with black chalk eventually added to the red, as in Savoyarde (1978.12.1). Around 1715, he added white chalk to the mix. Although Watteau did not invent the technique of trois crayons, or three chalks (Rubens and La Fosse, among others, had used it before him), his name is always linked to the technique for his intuitive mastery of it, melding red, black, and white to great painterly and coloristic effect. In Standing Nude Man Holding Bottles (1972.118.238), the three colors of chalk, in combination with the tone of the paper reserve, create a convincing rendering of flesh tones.

Watteau’s artistic legacy pervades French art up to the emergence of Neoclassicism. The sweetness of his palette, an homage to Rubens and the colorism of sixteenth-century Venetian painting recast in delicate pastels to suit the scale and aesthetic of Rococo décor, was widely followed, as was his preference for erotic genre subjects adapted from seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish sources.

The times dictated his paintings subject and spirit, but Watteau’s mastery was unique.  The paintings of pierrots, or harlequins, are reflected in Picasso’s artwork, and the painting below will remind us of much of that work.

(Picture courtesy of Jean Louis Mazlere  at

Pierrot dit autrefois Gille by Watteau

Pierrot dit autrefois Gille by Watteau

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Ruth Calvo

Ruth Calvo

I've blogged at The Seminal for about two years, was at cabdrollery for around three. I live in N.TX., worked for Sen.Yarborough of TX after graduation from Wellesley, went on to receive award in playwriting, served on MD Arts Council after award, then managed a few campaigns in MD and served as assistant to a member of the MD House for several years, have worked in legal offices and written for magazines, now am retired but addicted to politics, and join gladly in promoting liberals and liberal policies.


  1. Beverly Lawson
    May 30, 2015 at 7:18 am

    Good Morning All, Great pictures Ruth and thanks for your good work to hold us together. Work day here for me and luckily no rain yet…but in the forecast. Just hoping it will not be severe. CHeers, Y’all.

  2. Ruth
    May 30, 2015 at 7:25 am

    morning, all, hope you are having a lovely spring day. The garden, pic taken by spud last night;

  3. Ruth
    May 30, 2015 at 7:27 am

    My pleasure, it’s fortunate to have a good group greeting each other – would miss you all if it ended.
    From a report I heard on the weahter channel, the long stalled front over TX is about to shift east, fortunate for you and hopefully good for its next homefront.

  4. Canyon2
    May 30, 2015 at 7:47 am

    Good morning Ruth, Beverly, and all pups yet to arrive.
    Thank you for the post Ruth, I learn so much about art from you. I appreciate it but never got into the history of it.
    The garden looks beautiful.

  5. Ruth
    May 30, 2015 at 7:50 am

    Always fun to do the research, here, as it’s been many decades since I studied art history and bringing back forgotten things works for me. Actually, I’d been looking at Degas and Picasso works and had forgotten Watteau had been a major inspiration, myself.

  6. Canyon2
    May 30, 2015 at 8:09 am

    Imagine what might have been with his talent but dying at thirty-six erased that possibility and yet look at the beautiful works leading up to his death.
    Amazing talent.

  7. Ruth
    May 30, 2015 at 8:11 am

    Noting also that he was sick much of the time, and I wonder if that brought home to Watteau an appreciation for his world that more active people with more of a future never developed. Just speculating.

  8. Canyon2
    May 30, 2015 at 8:12 am

    I would like to share in Beverly’s comment about you keeping us all together.
    I too would miss all of the folks here in the morning. It gets my day off to a good start. I thank you so very much Ruth.

  9. Ruth
    May 30, 2015 at 8:15 am

    Thanks, special folks here.

  10. Canyon2
    May 30, 2015 at 8:19 am

    Time to take one of the dogs to the groomer. She is so busy she had to fit me in at 7:45 a.m. on Saturday. I will take any time she can give me and it is so good she is that busy.
    Have a great weekend everyone.

  11. Alice X
    May 30, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Morning – lovely (and large) garden – lovely pictures. Funeral today.

  12. Ruth
    May 30, 2015 at 8:32 am

    Sorry about your day.
    Thanks, we enjoy keeping it going.
    If I were still in TX, it would have to go by the bye around July when it gets too hot and dry to work a garden.

  13. Alice X
    May 30, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Now they tell us – I just had that done.

    from links at Naked Capitalism

    Panel Warns About Endoscopes, But Advises Their Continued Use

  14. Ruth
    May 30, 2015 at 8:56 am

    My favorite doctor always recommended not going to hospitals or taking medicine, and not sure about visiting your doctor.

  15. Ruth
    May 30, 2015 at 9:01 am

    off to the garden (as Pictured).

  16. May 30, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Good morning. Anyone still around?

  17. May 30, 2015 at 11:52 am

    Oh well, have a nice day folks!