by Rosalba Carriera
This person is associated with: Rococo
French rococo painter.
After his training in Claude Gillot's workshop, he ran for the Prix de Rome in 1709, but he failed with his David Forgives Abigail and Brings her Food (the prize was awarded to Antoine Grison). He nevertheless managed to become academician in 1712. His reception piece was the Pilgrimage to Cythera , painted in 1717.
Watteau is especially famous for his fêtes galantes, a new kind of genre scene he designed, which represented young couples dancing or making music in parks. The underlined eroticism expressed in his works immediately reached its audience. Indeed, with the death of Louis XIV (in 1715), the devout moral imposed to the Court at the end of his long reign no longer stood. By now, freed from the watchful eye of the king, the aristocrats - led by the Regent - looked for happiness and pleasure, which were provided by Watteau in his works.
For the first time in Modern History, art was made only to please, whereas previous painters mostly created artworks charged with a Christian moral of repentance or austerity. This new paradigm was at the origin of Rococo, the dominant art movement in Europe during the reign of Louis XV (1715-1774), for which Watteau is regarded as the inventor.
Watteau died young at the peak of his fame in 1721. Several painters followed his style, notably Pater - his only student - and Lancret.
Catalogue raisonné: Edmond de Goncourt, Catalogue Raisonné d'Antoine Watteau, Paris, Rapilly, 1875.