Jean-Antoine Watteau had a very brief but very successful career as an artist. Watteau was born at the end of the 17th century to a time when the art of the Baroque was beginning to wane. But the talented Watteau brought new life to painting through his interest in movement and color in works of great earlier artists such as Rubens and Correggio. It was only a premature death when Watteau was only 36 years old which brought this artists great career to an early end.
One of his greatest masterpieces was Pilgrimage to Cythera, a large work full of people and the frivolity that epitomizes Rococo art. This painting is populated by many people all heading towards Cythera, an island of Greece that in mythology was the island of the goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Though the pilgrims are all in dress contemporary with Watteau’s time, there are definite influences of classical Greece that can be seen throughout the painting. A statue in the classical tradition stands on the right side of the painting, under which people are resting, draped across one another. Many cherubs fly throughout the sky, all watching over the individuals and couples as they make their way toward Cythera. Cherubs, still a popular figure today, are taken from Cupid, another god of ancient Greece and the son of Aphrodite, whose job it was, was to make people fall in love. Indeed, he seems to be hard at work in this painting with the many couples who frolic about paying attention only to one another, oblivious to all else that is happening around them.
Another painting of Watteau’s is Gersaint’s Shopsign. This painting is very interesting and one of the last that Watteau ever produced. By this time Watteau knew that he was ill and would not last long. In the painting, various paints are shown as being taken down from the walls and packed away. Many of these paintings are Watteau’s own works. This great artist didn’t think that his work would be remembered after his death, all of his paintings eventually being packed away for storage as is shown in this painting. How wrong Watteau’s judgment of his own work has turned out to be. Instead of being just another artist who died a young death, Watteau has become one of the great Rococo artists at the turn of the 18th century.
Watteau was a fantastic Rococo artist whose work has stood the test of time. He revitalized a declining state of art in his own time, something that was not forgotten in the years after his death as the artist himself thought was to be the case. Instead, Watteau has achieved a place of honor among such peers as Fragonard, another great Rococo artist. No passage of time will cause Watteau’s art to be forgotten as he seemed so afraid was to happen.
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