Saturday, September 05, 2009

09/10 Academic Decathlon French Revolution Art Selection #1 - Mezzetin

Mezzetin, probably 1718–20 Jean Antoine Watteau (French, 1684–1721), Oil on canvas, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

In an art history class a few years ago, the professor had a free response question on an exam: "Choose your favorite art movement and tell me why you chose it." I surprised myself when I chose Rococo and proceeded to list the things that made my heart sing: pure entertainment, lots of pink putti, FABULOUS clothing, lovely soft colors oozing on the canvas, lots of outdoors romping, parties and last but not least, Love. Who would have thunk it!

The images this year begin with this lovely movement, Rococo. It's birth was in France, and Jean Antoine Watteau is credited for being at the forefront of the movement. An innovative artist, he painted in a looser, more painterly style than his contemporaries. His most notable contribution to art is the creation of a new genre the Académie des Beaux-Arts called the "fête galante" or gallant party. These paintings showed groups of elegantly dressed aristocrats enjoying outdoor gatherings. His submission to the Académie did not fit into their accepted genres. The hierarchy of the genres ranked the works according to their subjects: #1 history paintings, #2 portraits, #3 genre scenes and #4 still life and landscapes. The fête galante genre loosened up this rigid hierarchy and the Académie, which was historically very conservative, began to open up to new subjects and styles. It was important to individual artists to be accepted by the Académie for a successful livelihood as a professional artist.

Mezzetin shows us Watteau's interest in the theater as subject matter for his paintings. In this painting, Mezzetin (which means "half-measure") is one of the stock character actors in an Italian commedia dell'arte. There are a couple of not so subtle messages in this composition. The female figure in the background (a statue painted in the grisaillle technique) has her back turned to the wistful troubadour. He appears to be singing a love song, perhaps about unrequited love; he is fully engaged, lost in his own world.

The Louvre has a marvelous collection of Rococo art, both decorative arts and paintings. Can't get to Paris to see the Louvre's Rococo collection? Check out the virtual tour of the Watteau Room in the Louvre!

Portrait of Jean-Antoine Watteau by Rosalba Carriera.

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