Jean-Antoine Watteau

Dates1684 - 1721
BornValenciennes, France
DiedParis, France

The son of a roof tiler, Jean-Antoine Watteau showed a penchant for drawing and painting early in life. At eighteen he was apprenticed to a painter in his native town of Valenciennes. Soon after, with little money and few possessions, he made his way to Paris, where he made a living by copying the works of Titian and Paolo Veronese. There he entered the studio of Claude Audran III, the most renowned decorator in Paris, and met Claude Gillot, a decorator of theatrical scenery. The theatrical qualities of Watteau's paintings and drawings--their artificial illumination, costumes, and painted backdrops--reflect Gillot's influence. Watteau's subjects, often including figures from the commedia dell'arte, reflect his constant observation of the theater and the studies he often drew during performances.

Watteau invented a new type of painting, the fête galante. These large scenes of well-to-do men and women enjoying themselves outdoors allowed him to showcase his talent for conveying the delights and enchantments of nature and led to repeat commissions from such connoisseurs as Pierre Crozat. For years after his death, his compositions remained widely known in Europe through the circulation of engravings and drawings.