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Jean-Antoine Watteau

1684 - 1721

Watteau was one of the most influential French painters of the early 18th century. He painted numerous scenes with Commedia dell'Arte characters and also invented a type of painting known as the Fête Galante - small cabinet pictures which explored the psychology of love, usually in a landscape setting. Other painters, including Lancret and Pater, took up the theme.

Watteau was born at Valenciennes in the north of France and arrived in Paris in 1702. The influence of Rubens and of other Flemish and Dutch painters of the 17th century, including Teniers, remained with him during his years of training in Paris with (possibly) Abraham Metayer, Claude Gillot (about 1705/8) and Claude Audran III (about 1708/9). In 1712 he was admitted as a probationer to the French Academy, becoming a full member in 1717 with the presentation of his 'Pilgrimage to the Isle of Cythera' (Paris, Louvre), for which the Academy created the new category of Galante.

He also made many paintings of Italian comedy, or Commedia dell'Arte, in which he explored the expressive potential of its famous characters, Pierrot, Columbine and Harlequin.