Exhibition | From Watteau to Fragonard: Les Fêtes Galantes

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on March 14, 2014

The exhibition opens today at the Jacquemart-André. In addition to the remarkably comprehensive 30-page press kit, the exhibition website, available in both French and English, is outstanding. -CH

From Watteau to Fragonard: Les Fêtes Galantes
Musée Jacquemart-André, Paris, 14 March — 21 July 2014

Curated by Christoph Vogtherr and Mary Tavener Holmes


Antoine Watteau, An Embarrassing Proposal, oil on canvas, ca. 1715–20
(Saint-Petersburg, Hermitage Museum)

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The Musée Jacquemart-André is delighted to be holding the exhibition From Watteau to Fragonard, les fêtes galantes. There will be approximately sixty works on display, mostly paintings lent for the occasion by major collections, predominantly public, from countries including France, Germany, the UK and the USA.

The poetical term fête galante refers to a new genre of paintings and drawings that blossomed in the early 18th century during the Regency period (1715–1723) and whose central figure was Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721). Inspired by images of bucolic merrymaking in the Flemish tradition, Watteau and his followers created a new form, with a certain timelessness, characterised by greater subtlety and nuance. These depict amorous scenes in settings garlanded with luxuriant vegetation, real or imaginary: idealised dancers, women and shepherds are shown engaged in frivolous pursuits or exchanging confidences. The poetical and fantastical atmospheres that are a mark of his work are accompanied by a quest for elegance and sophistication characteristic of the Rococo movement, which flourished during the Age of Enlightenment, evidenced in his flair for curved lines and light colours.


Jean-Honoré Fragonard, A Game of Hot Cockles, oil on canvas, ca. 1775–80 (Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art)

The exhibition offers a chance to rediscover the pioneering nature of Watteau’s output. These are works of great creativity, depictions of life outdoors in some of his finest paintings and most accomplished drawings. Nicolas Lancret (1690–1743) and Jean-Baptiste Pater (1695–1725) were greatly influenced by the master, their works revisiting and refining the codes of the fêtes galantes. Their imaginary scenes are anchored in reality, featuring locations, works of art and multiple details that would have been easily recognisable to their contemporaries.

The flexibility of the fête galante theme proved to be an invitation to experimentation and innovation, and the genre was to inspire several generations of artists, occupying a central place in French art throughout the 18th century. Works by other highly creative painters, such as François Boucher (1703–1770) and Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), illustrate their very personal visions of the joys of the fête galante as first imagined by Watteau.

The Musée Jacquemart-André, with its marvellous collection of 18th-century French paintings, is the perfect setting for an exhibition looking at fêtes galantes. We are particularly pleased that several of the finest drawings from the period, from the collection created by Nélie Jacquemart and Édouard André, will also be on display as part of the exhibition.

The Curators

9789462300453Currently director of London’s Wallace Collection, Christoph Vogtherr is a specialist in 18th-century French painting. He is the author of an authoritative work on the subject, the catalogue raisonné of paintings by Jean-Antoine Watteau, Jean-Baptiste Pater, and Nicolas Lancret in Berlin and Potsdam, published in 2010. During 2011, he curated two successful exhibitions of works by Watteau at the Wallace Collection.

Mary Tavener Holmes holds a doctorate from the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. A specialist in 18th-century French paintings and drawings, she has over thirty years’ experience as a curator, author and professor of European art. She has produced numerous publications, including A Magic Mirror: The Portrait in France, 1700–1900 (1986) and Nicolas Lancret: Dance before a Fountain (2006).

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The catalogue is available from Artbooks.com:

Christoph Vogtherr and Mary Tavener Holmes, De Watteau à Fragonard. Les Fêtes Galantes (Antwerp: Mercator, 2014), 224 pages, ISBN: 978-9462300453, €39.

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