(b Valenciennes, bapt 10 Oct 1684; d
Nogent-sur-Marne, nr Paris, 18 July 1721).
He is best known for his invention of a new genre, the fête galante,
a small easel painting in which elegant people are depicted in
conversation or music-making in a secluded parkland setting. His
particular originality lies in the generally restrained nature of the
amorous exchanges of his characters, which are conveyed as much by
glance as by gesture, and in his mingling of figures in contemporary
dress with others in theatrical costume, thus blurring references to
both time and place.
Watteau’s work was widely collected during his lifetime and
influenced a number of other painters in the decades following his
death, especially in France and England. His drawings were particularly
admired. Documented facts about Watteau’s life are notoriously few,
though several friends wrote about him after his death (see Champion).
Of over two hundred paintings generally accepted as his work—of which
many of the compositions survive only in the form of reproductive prints
by others—only the Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera (1717;
Paris, Louvre), his morceau de réception for admission to the
Académie Royale, and a handful of others can be dated with reasonable
certainty. Moreover, most of the titles by which his works are known
were not recorded until after his death, when prints of them were