Fête galante at a Fountain by Jean-Baptiste Pater, P406
In the years around 1710 the great Antoine Watteau invented what was to become a new genre of painting that soon became very successful in France and internationally. A Fête galante depicts outdoor gatherings, mainly of young city-dwellers. Its main elements are conversation, music and – often through the presence of costumed actors – theatre. Flirting is important but the term “galant” originally indicated a socially adept, polite and witty individual who would make a group of people at ease and entertain them. This vision of outdoor sociability is a modernisation and adaptation of the pastoral, the traditional rendering of ideal country life. The Wallace Collection owns seven major examples of Watteau’s Fêtes galantes, all painted in the decade between c.1710 and his death in 1721.Watteau almost immediately became one of the most successful European artists of his generation but very untypically he never set up a proper studio or trained pupils. Jean-Baptiste Pater (1695-1736) was the only exception. Both artists were born in Valenciennes, originally a Flemish town and today close to Belgium. Pater worked with Watteau twice: once at an unknown moment early in his career, then again for a couple of weeks immediately before the older artist’s death in 1721.
He became the closest follower of Watteau, but also one of the first to change and expand the template of the new genre, e. g. by introducing figures of bathers. When Watteau died, there was an enormous demand for the Fête galante that was by then harder to satisfy, and Pater was one of the artists who seized the opportunity.
The Wallace Collection owns one of his numerous copies after Watteau, but far more interesting are his independent works in the new genre. In his Fête galante at a Fountain Pater followed Watteau’s work closely (such as the Rendez-vous de chasse at the Wallace Collection) but introduced more obvious narrative elements such as the different stages of courting and the reactions to the dog in the centre. On stylistic grounds, the painting can be dated to shortly after Watteau’s death, probably to c.1725. Pater still used a stronger and darker palette at the time which brightened up considerably in his later works of the 1730s. The painting is one of the relatively rare pictures that can be dated to Pater’s early career with confidence.
Friday 3 January at 1pm with Christoph Vogtherr and Thursday 23 January at 1pm with Lucy Davis.
John Ingamells: The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Pictures III. French before 1815, London 1989, p. 294-295.
Christoph Martin Vogtherr: Watteau at the Wallace Collection, London 2011, p. 130-133.