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Antoine Watteau was only 36 years old when he died in the early part of the 18th century, yet in the short amount of time he was alive, he became a master of one of the most popular art movements in history; one that, among other things, epitomized an entire era of the French elite. Though somewhat more subtle than prior art movements in the Baroque period, the Rococo style is still flamboyant and outrageous, rich and lavish, and offers a glimpse of court life during the early 18th century. Watteau, considered one of the leaders of this style, so awed his contemporaries with his skills that the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture created an entirely new category for the painting he chose to submit for acceptance into the Academy: the fête-galante (or “courtship party”).
Though there are often subtle adult themes in Rococo pieces, Watteau was quite prolific during his short life and we have many images from which to choose that not only represent the style of the period, but also his personal preferences in subject matter. These range anywhere from his signature fête-galante to political commentary on war in his hometown and portraits of migrant workers.
This picture study includes seven of his works, instead of the usual six. This is mainly because six of them were used in our Charlotte Mason homeschool co-op but in one case, I was not able to find a good-quality high-resolution for printing (Voulez vous triompher des Belles?) and another one has very, very little information about it (An Embarrassing Proposal) readily available. So you get an extra one and can pick and choose which ones you would like to cover. 🙂
Also a warning: The Embarkation for Cythera does have some nude statues in it. For our co-op, I made a slightly edited version of this piece per the request of one of the other moms to use during co-op time. I had no problems showing this particular piece to my (young, not-reached-puberty-age) children unedited, but I know that nudity in art is a touchy subject in the homeschooling world. If you would like to have the censored version, just drop me a line and I’m happy to send it!
Finally, as with the last few picture study aids, this one includes full-sized prints (without artist names or titles) at the end.
Unfortunately, not much concrete information exists about the very short life of Antoine Watteau and most biographies and historical books are primarily conjecture and criticism.
There are some interesting works of fiction out about his life, including a series of “journal entries” written by people who knew him that discuss his early life and later successes. These can be found in The Eclectic Magazine: Foreign Literature, Volume 105.
Another fictional account written in chapter form of his early life (from which I took the biographical part of the picture study aid) is in Boy Artists, Or, Sketches of the Childhood of Michael Angelo, Mozart, Haydn, Watteau, and Sebastian Gomèz by E.P. Dutton.
To see more of his artworks, the book The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting by Colin B. Bailey, Philip Conisbee, Thomas Gaehtgens, and Thomas W. Gaehtgens is absolutely beautiful and I was able to find it through my library. You may want to preview this as many of his paintings and Rococo in general include quite a bit of nudity and/or adult themes.
Unfortunately, I was unable to find any children’s books specifically about Watteau. If you know of one that is of good quality, please feel free to contact me!
This is by no means an exhaustive analysis or study of each piece, and that is intentional. I tried to keep it all very simple in the spirit of there being, “no talk about schools of painting, little about style; consideration of these matters comes in later life, the first and most important thing is to know the pictures themselves. As in a worthy book we leave the author to tell his own tale, so do we trust a picture to tell its tale through the medium the artist gave it. In the region of art as else-where we shut out the middleman.” (vol 6 pg 216)
Also, please keep in mind that I’m not even close to being a Charlotte Mason expert! And though I do have a BA in art history, I’m definitely not an expert in that area either. 🙂
For enjoying art with children in general, I also included a page of art sources that I’ve found particularly good:
Online Art Collections
For younger children, I highly recommend the Mini-Master series by Julie Merberg and Suzanne Bober. Also, the Touch The Art series by Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo.
For both younger and older children, the Come Look With Me series by Gladys S. Blizzard is excellent.
You may download it for personal use in your own homeschool (Ambleside Online, another Charlotte Mason curriculum, or otherwise). All of the prints are included in the Picture Study Aid file, so need to download a separate file for that. If you have any feedback or suggestions, please feel free to fill out this form!