Antoine Watteau was a famous French painter of the 18th century, one of the founders of Rococo, an ingenious author of many drawings. Antoine Watteau gained wide fame thanks to exquisite paintings, called by his contemporaries “gallant celebrations”. Numerous picturesque works of the artist are deeply imbued with grace, poetry and lyrics.
Antoine Watteau left to descendants several tens of thousands of works, including magnificent sketches and studies. To maximize the expressiveness of the characters, he always created a large number of preliminary sketches before writing the next masterpiece.
Biography of Antoine Watteau
Antoine Watteau was born on October 10, 1684 in the city of Valenciennes in the north of France into a petty bourgeois family. His father was distinguished by a tough disposition and often beat his loved ones, but did not interfere with his son’s hobby for drawing. Already at the age of 10, Antoine began studying painting with the humble local artist Jacques-Albert Gérin, but quickly surpassed his teacher and stopped attending classes.
In 1702, Antoine Watteau secretly left his parents on foot from his native Valencienne for Paris to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional painter. Soon he managed to get a job in an art workshop, the owners of which sold copies of the masterpieces of famous masters to Parisians. Here Watteau was daily engaged in copying the works of great artists, and devoted his leisure time to sketches from nature.
In 1704, 20-year-old Antoine accidentally met his father and son Marietta, the owners of a reputable art company. They appreciated the talent of the young Watteau and helped him enroll in training with Claude Gillot. An experienced mentor instilled in the student a love for portraying theatrical life. Subsequently, this theme will become one of the main in the work of Watteau.
In 1707, Antoine got a job as an assistant to the curator of the art collections of the French kings, Claude Audran, who was also a fashionable decorator of his era. Watteau participated in the creation of theatrical sets with Audran and received unlimited access to the masterpieces of the ancient masters.
Pictures on the theme of theatrical life
In 1709, the painter took part in the prestigious competition of the Royal Academy of Arts, but took only 2nd place. Stung by this failure, he left for his native Valenciennes, where he met the local sculptor Antoine Pater. He persuaded the young genius to take his son as a student and return to the capital again.
In the early 1710s, Antoine Watteau diligently painted pictures on the theme of theatrical life and became very famous. In 1712, he applied for admission to the Academy of Arts, but was able to submit a mandatory job only 5 years later. By this time, Watteau had become the most popular painter in Paris; people started talking about him not only in France, but also in other European countries.
Unfortunately, the success in his work was overshadowed by a sharp deterioration in the artist’s health. Doctors discovered he had tuberculosis, which progressed rapidly. At the end of 1719, Watteau went to London for treatment with the famous medicine luminary Richard Mead, but it did not help.
In the summer of 1720, the painter returned to Paris, and soon moved to the suburbs of the capital, where it was easier for him to endure a serious illness. On July 17, 1721, Antoine Watteau died, leaving no heirs behind.
The most famous paintings by Antoine Watteau
The most famous paintings by Antoine Watteau are today considered to be the masterpieces of French painting of the early 18th century. Among them are the following works:
- “Satire on Doctors” (1706) is one of the first surviving paintings by the young artist, still immature, but surprisingly graceful grotesque buffoonery.
- “Pilgrimage to the island of Kiferu” (1717) – a work written by the painter as a compulsory work for admission to the Academy of Arts. It was from this painting that the name of the new genre “gallant celebration” (French fête galante) appeared in world art.
- Gilles (1718) is the artist’s original view of his favorite theatrical theme. The actor in the picture, contrary to all the traditions of the genre, is depicted not in a dynamic pose, but in complete inaction.
- “The sign of Gersen’s shop” (1721) is the last work of the master, created for a close friend of Gersen’s – the owner of an antique shop. This work stands out from other works by its huge dimensions and unusual background.