A French painter
of the early eighteenth century, who created a delicate, intricately-coloured style of large scenes, typically featuring either commedia dell'arte
characters, or the fête champêtre
or aristocratic fête galante
, the outdoor gathering of people spread out on the grass picnic
king and enjoying themselves.
He was very naturalistic compared to what had gone before, or the posed focused scenes of Fragonard and the fantastic excesses of Boucher, his contemporaries. Other French artists of the period, like Pater, tried his style, but the results are dead. Watteau is full of colour but it's not effusive. The French style of this period is called rococo.
His scenes have no supernatural source of light. A gentle light pervades them and lights up all the main parts, but it is simply in the air, not streaming from a source. His characters live in the rich woodland of roses and oak leaves deemed bucolic in that period; but in contrast with others, his figures have believable faces, and bend to each other, pay attention, look amused, look away, get caught in half actions, as real people would. They are elegant, not mock peasants, but alive. The effect on the viewer is serenity and amused pleasure.
Jean-Antoine Watteau was born in Valenciennes in 1684. From 1703 he worked in Paris as an assistant to a theatrical painter, studied under Claude Audran the keeper of the Luxembourg Palace, and began to work for royal patrons. In 1717 he became a member of the Académie Française, and died untimely young of tuberculosis in 1721. His masterpiece, the work with which he entered the Academy, was L'Embarquement pour Cythère. The Academy actually created the designation fête galante to describe his compositions.