About this artwork

This is a very fine example of the 'fêtes galantes' perfected by Watteau. He included himself as the seated musician playing a musette. The central dancer may be the leading actress Charlotte Desmares, who was mistress of the Duc d'Orleans. Her male dancing partner is Nicolas Vleughels, a Flemish painter, who was Watteau's friend and landlord. The painting may contain a private meaning enjoyed by the two artists. The other figures are based on drawings Watteau made from his direct observations of contemporary society. The painting acquired its present title from an engraving made after it, published in 1732.

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Jean-Antoine Watteau

Jean-Antoine Watteau

Watteau, celebrated for his colourful and delicately sophisticated work, introduced a new type of subject into eighteenth century French painting: the fêtes galantes. These were scenes in which exquisitely dressed young people idle away time in dreamy, romantic, pastoral settings. They appear joyful but are often tinged with melancholy. Watteau was born in Valenciennes, formerly in Flanders but by then part of France. He moved to Paris to pursue his artistic education and initially worked as a scenery painter. Inspired by Rubens and Venetian painters his outstanding skills were soon recognised and he was admitted to the French Academy in 1712.