Contributions of Antoine Watteau to Rococo Art

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  • 0:01 The Rococo
  • 0:49 Rococo Painting
  • 2:36 Fete Galante
  • 4:51 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will not only explore the work of French painter Antoine Watteau but you will also discover how this work set foundations for Rococo art. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Rococo

Hello explorer, welcome to the art safari. There are some wild artists out there, but today we're going after a very unique specimen. Take a good look. This is Antoine Watteau, French painter of the early 18th century.

Portrait of Antoine Watteau

We'll be tracking him in the early parts of an artistic movement called the Rococo. The Rococo is a late development of the ornate style of the Baroque characterized by playful or whimsical themes and intricate but asymmetrical designs: this is where we'll find Watteau. While the Rococo began as a style focused on architecture and interior design, it was Watteau who really brought it into painting. We're going to look for him today throughout the early Rococo, and if you keep your eyes open today, you might just catch him in the act.

Rococo Painting

Ok, there's been a reported sighting of Antoine Watteau around here, at the beginning of the 18th century. Ah, there, behind the oils and canvases. Antoine Watteau, in his natural habitat.

Pleasures of Love

Looks like he's working on the Pleasures of Love painted around 1719. What a beauty. This is a good place to see some of his early contributions to Rococo as a style. Before Watteau, the Rococo was mostly limited to architecture, but he figured out how to translate it to painting. Look at the soft, delicate colors; the organic, curving, and sensual patterns throughout the composition; and the lack of symmetry. The Rococo embraced all the intricacy of the previous Baroque, but with none of the seriousness. In this painting, Watteau depicts the young and wealthy in a tranquil landscape. They're not doing anything serious, just relaxing, flirting, and socializing. The dark shadows give a sense of drama, suggesting perhaps a secret affair or scandal, or just the fleeting nature of youthful love.

La Boudeuse

Ah, Watteau's moved on to another painting, this one a portrait. Portraits were a popular subject for Rococo painters, who explored the folly, whimsy, and passions of the 18th century. This one he's working on is La Boudeuse. Again, look at the colors he's using. They're soft and warm but not overly bright. The composition is asymmetrical, and the subject is a young woman, coyly flirting through her indifference to the obviously interested suitor. Just like we saw in his last piece, Watteau combines feelings of playfulness and lightheartedness with subtle overtones of melancholy. That was just his personal style, but it did set important precedents for later Rococo paintings.

Fête Galante

Looks like Antoine Watteau is on the move. He's entered a period of his work we call the fête galante, a subject of painting depicting French aristocrats in a pastoral setting engaged in innocent flirting and relaxation. A bit of background here; around 1715, the French elite began spending less time in the courts of Paris and more time at private country estates, where they could enjoy their leisure. Watteau began painting scenes reflecting this theme, but nobody else was. So, when he submitted his work to the French Academy of Arts in 1717, there was no category that really fit his painting. Rather than reject the paintings, the Academy just created the title of fête galante, and it became one of the foundations of Rococo painting, starting a trend that broke the centuries-old tradition of art being religious in theme.

Embarkation for Cythera

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