Jean-Antoine Watteau was a French painter of the Rococo movement who became primarily known for his compositions depicting festive figures in a bucolic landscape permeated with an idyllic and suffuse daylight. This art style became known as fete-galante.
Jean-Antoine Watteau was born in the city of Valenciennes, France, on October 10, 1684. The artist showed an interest in art at a very young age, and his early training was probably under a local painter called Albert Gerin. At first, his artistic subjects were charlatans selling fake medicine in the streets of Valenciennes. In 1702, the artist left his hometown and went to Paris.
After a brief period as a scene-painter, the artist found a job in a workshop where he copied paintings in the Dutch and Flemish traditions. During this period, the artist developed a particular sketchlike technique.
His drawing would soon attract the attention of Claude Gillot, who employed the young artist as an assistant in his studio in 1705. Gillot’s artworks did not comply and reacted against the pompous official art of the reign of Louis XIV. Gillot was also very fond of characters of the commedia dell’arte, and this also became one of Watteau’s favorite subjects throughout his life.
After a falling out with Gillot, Watteau moved to the workshop of the interior decorator Claude Audran III, whose artworks influence Watteau to create drawings with exemplary elegance. His new tutor was the curator of the sumptuous Palais du Luxembourg. From him, Watteau developed his knowledge regarding ornamental design and decorative art. At the palace, the artist was exposed to masterpieces by the Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens, who became one of the pivotal influences in Watteau’s production.
In 1712, thanks to Charles de La Fosse’s aid, Watteau was admitted to the distinguished Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture in Paris, prior to becoming a full member five years later. His reception piece, which was required for admission, took those five years to get completed. The Pilgrimage to Cythera, also known as Embarkation for Cythera, is one of Watteau`s masterpieces.
Watteau began to execute paintings depicting figures in masquerade costumes or ball dresses, enjoying themselves immersed in a softly rendered park-like environment. This style of art became known as fete-galante, a name created by the French Academy. In order to accept Watteau as a student, whose artworks did not match in any category, the Academy simply created another, rather than rejecting his submission.
Jean-Antoine Watteau died of tuberculosis at the early age of 36 years old, on Nogent-sur-Marne, France.