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Indepth Arts News:

"Watteau and His World: French Drawing from 1700 to 1750 "
1999-10-20 until 2000-01-09
Frick Collection
New York, NY, USA United States of America

Watteau and His World: French Drawing from 1700 to 1750, an internationally touring exhibition opening at The Frick Collection on October 20, 1999, is the first major show to place the unrivaled achievements of this artist within the wider context of his forebears and followers. Antoine Watteau (1684 - 1721) was one of the greatest draftsmen of the eighteenth century, and his works are a captivating melding of observation and imagination, providing a glimpse into the creative mind that came to define his age. On view in New York through January 9, 2000, the exhibition features approximately sixty-five sheets from private and public collections in North America selected by guest curator Alan P. Wintermute, Senior Specialist of Old Master paintings at Christie's and a former Director of Colnaghi USA, New York. Thirty-five drawings by Watteau form the heart of the exhibition and convey his vision in all its liveliness and variety. Among the twelve other artists represented are François Boucher (1703 - 1770), Claude Gillot (1673 - 1722), Nicolas Lancret (1690 - 1743), François Lemoyne (1688 - 1737), Jean-Etienne Liotard (1702 - 1789), and Charles Natoire (1700 - 1777). The exhibition, which travels to the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa (February 11 through May 8, 2000), is organized by The American Federation of Arts and made possible in part by The Florence Gould Foundation. The catalogue is supported in part by the Samuel H. Kress Foundation. Presentation of Watteau and his World: French Drawing from 1700 to 1750 in New York is supported in part by the Fellows of The Frick Collection, and is coordinated for museum by its Curator Edgar Munhall.

Watteau, who drew constantly throughout his lifetime, is one of the most revered artists of the French School. Watteau coveted his drawings and regarded them as superior to the most perfect of his paintings. When he died at age 36, he was a successful, admired, and prominent artist whose works were avidly sought after and collected in France and throughout much of Europe. The drawings by Watteau featured in the exhibition include arabesques and decorative designs; landscapes; copies of the Old Masters; sketches of actors, clowns, singers, musicians, soldiers, and military scenes; multi-figured compositional drawings for theater scenes; and his most distinctive creations, the fêtes galantes, small, romantic landscapes with wistful lovers in fancy dress drawn in characteristic red, black, and white chalks.

The three other sections of the exhibition are devoted to artists who influenced Watteau, his contemporaries, and those who contributed to the extension of his legacy. Watteau's Artistic Forebears features works by the decorative painters with whom Watteau apprenticed and the powerful members of the French Academy, including Claude Gillot and Charles de La Fosse. Watteau's Followers includes superb sheets by his most gifted students, works by other painters of the fête galante, and drawings by Watteau's closest friends and contemporaries, such as Jean-Baptiste Pater and Nicolas Lancret. Selected drawings by Pierre-Antoine Quillard and Jacques-André Portail, his close imitators, further illuminate this section. Watteau's Legacy explores the first rococo generation of artists for whom the direct example of Watteau's work was paramount, with works by François Boucher, François Lemoyne, and Jean-Baptiste Oudry, among others.

In his catalogue essay, Mr. Wintermute writes, Watteau prized his drawings and kept them in bound volumes that enabled him to refer to them easily when composing his paintings; they were the essential sources of inspiration for the figure poses in his fêtes galantes. Edme-François Gersaint (1694 - 1750), an art dealer and friend to Watteau, wrote, In the drawings of his best period…there is nothing superior to them of their kind; subtlety, grace, lightness, correctness, facility, expression; there is no quality that one might wish for which they lack, and he will always be considered as one of the greatest and best draftsmen that France has ever produced.

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