Sunday, 20 July 2014

From Watteau to Fragonard, les fêtes galantes

The Jacquemart-André Museum is the prominent and magnificent former residence of Edouard André and Nélie Jacquemart, decorated and renovated to accommodate the couple’s vast art collection, which they wanted to incorporate into their daily environment. Currently on exhibit is “From Watteau to Fragonard, les fêtes galantes,” comprised of about 60 items, centered on their collection.

fig.1 Antoine Watteau (1684 - 1721), Récréation galante,
ca 1717-1719, oil on canvas, 114,5 x 167,2 cm,
Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gem_ldegalerie,
© BPK, Berlin, Dist. RMN-Grand Palais / Jörg P. Anders
In the early 18th century, the light-hearted, graceful lines of Rococo art were blossoming and replacing the imposing religious and historic paintings typical of the Baroque style. Fêtes galantes is the popular category of paintings during this time that portrayed lovers frolicking in beautiful gardens and nature. One of the main painters of this genre was Jean-Antoine Watteau. Born in the Flanders region, Watteau went to Paris as a youth where he painted the elegantly dressed men and women into the traditional, bucolic setting of Flanders, amid abundant greenery and flowers in full bloom. The Rococo style refined lines and bright colors created a poetic and romantic atmosphere. (fig. 1)

Watteau did not have any students, but toward the end of the 1710s many painters began copying his work and creating pictures influenced by his style. The artist most shaped by Watteau was Nicolas Lancret. Lancret incorporated elements of reality into his works such as popular fashion of the times or places that anyone back then would recognize. For example, the woman dancing in the center of La Carmago Dancing is the Paris Opera star Marie Camargo. Camargo was known for her active footwork and brought many new steps to 18th century ballet. In order to facilitate the complex steps, she shortened her dresses from just below the ankle to the calf. In the painting her skirt is short and reveals that she is wearing toe shoes.

fig.2 Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), La Fête à Saint-Cloud,
ca. 1775-1780, oil on canvas, 211 x 331 cm, Paris,
collection Banque de France, © RMN-Grand Palais / Gérard Blot
The popularity of fêtes galantes did not decline in the latter part of the 18th century but rather flourished further. As art patrons sought paintings to decorate their homes, larger works were created to fit the measurements of such spaces. A remarkable example is Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s La Féte à Saint-Cloud (fig.2). Fragonard painted with a superior brush technique, an enormous garden in which people are enjoying at their leisure a play and dancing. Most notable in the painting is a fountain at the center; the water soars up to a height of more than 5 meters, creating an extraordinary setting for the festivities. This painting represents the peak of the fétes galantes genre started by Watteau.

Musée Jacquemart-André
158 Boulevard Haussmann
75008 Paris
+33 1 45 62 11 59
Opening times:
Tue—Fri, Sun:10:00-18:00