Watteau’s Soldiers: Scenes of Military Life in Eighteenth-Century France at the Frick

It would be difficult to think of an artist further removed from the muck and misery of the battlefield than Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), who is known as a painter of amorous aristocrats and melancholy actors, a dreamer of exquisite parklands and impossibly refined fêtes. And yet, early in his career, Watteau painted a number of scenes of military life, remarkable for their deeply felt humanity and intimacy. These pictures were produced during one of the darkest chapters of France’s history, the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14). But the martial glory on which most military painters of the time trained their gaze — the fearsome arms, snarling horses, and splendid uniforms of generals glittering amid the smoke of cannon fire — held no interest for Watteau, who focused instead on the most prosaic aspects of war: the marches, halts, encampments, and bivouacs that defined the larger part of military life. Inspired by seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish genre scenes, the resulting works show the quiet moments between the fighting, when soldiers could rest and daydream, smoke pipes and play cards.

The works on display offer a rare opportunity to study the drawings and paintings together and probe Watteau’s complex and remarkable working methods. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Watteau did not proceed methodically from compositional sketches, studies, and full-scale models to the final painting. Instead, his process followed the whims of his imagination and the demands of the moment. He began by drawing soldiers from life, without a predetermined end in mind. These drawings provided him with a stock of figures, often used multiple times, that he would arrange in an almost spontaneous fashion on the canvas. As a result, figures previously isolated in his sketchbook were brought together and juxtaposed in new social relationships on the canvas, producing the ambiguous, dreamlike effects that make his paintings so intriguing. – See more at: http://www.frick.org/exhibitions/watteau#sthash.fs3uNbVN.dpuf

Start Date

July 12, 2016

End Date

October 2, 2016

Hours

10:00 AM - 06:00 PM

Address

The Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, New York NY

Event Type

Ticketed

More Information

http://www.frick.org

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