November 17, 2009

Exhibition: Watteau, Music & Theater


The Metropolitan Museum is currently showing the exhibition: Watteau, Music and Theater. The curators explain the time period, the reign of Louis quinze, was a period of "lush artistry," and the works selected show just that and more.

If you are familiar with the museum you will find the show immediately to your right when you enter the European Paintings Galleries.  Along blue walls you will find wonderfully entertaining examples of entertainments!  Theater characters get dramatic on stages both indoor and outdoor, while crowds look on eagerly - and with satisfaction - while private concerts invite you into 18th century homes. 

And that is what I love.
Watteau began his career working with a theater painter, Claude Gillot (1673-1722). Gillot drew many scenes from the Comedie Italian and his La Scène des deux carrosse is in the exhibition.  The drama is intense, both in emotion and absurdity.  The expressions on the characters' faces, their exaggerated poses, drawn out with hasty lines, give the impression  that the drawing could have been done right on the scene (or in the theater).

It is important that we can see the type of work Watteau was surrounded by and taught when he was developing as an artist.  You may recognize his images of Pierrot, a sad figure but always elegantly done, and he appears at least three times throughout the exhibition.  I found him particularly intersesting in the Foursome - just what are you showing those ladies sir? Other notable characters are Harlequin and Crispin.

Although I was prepared for many Watteau's (and was very satisfied with the result) I found myself particularly pleased with the Lancret's that were on display.  His Concert at the Oval Salon of Pierre Crozat is beautiful up close, from the expressions on the faces to the tiles in the floor. The stage is set!

Other notable pieces of his are Crozat's Chateau at Montmorency and Concert in Paris Home of Pierre Crozat both done in 1720.  If you could guess, Crozat was very much into art and collecting (not to mention of some fortune.)  Crozat's great-niece was Louise-Honorine Crozat, and Watteau actually stayed with the family under his patronage for a bit.

The exhibition has a mix of paintings, prints and even some porcelains.  Some popular pieces include Watteau's The Island of Cythera and his Mezzetin.   It has everything you might want in an afternoon, masquerades, opera, comedy and private concerts with rosy-cheeked boys. 

The show was so well done and I insist you go if you are in the area.  It is on view until November 29, but if you can't make it you can purchase the exhibition catalog here and you can view selected works from the show here!

Side Note: I also had fun posting updates on twitter, you can follow me, MarieGossip and MetMuseum.  If you have been to the show, or plan to go let me know how you found it! I would love to hear your thoughts!

7 comments

  1. Ah, sadly I cannot make it to New York before Nov 29th, so I will have to visit vicariously through your post. Watteau represents his age beautifully. Lush and lovely are two words that come to my mind when I think of his paintings. I adore his drawings as well, for his lines are so expressive. Thank you for sharing your visit.

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  2. Great review! Glad to hear you liked it so much. I am sadly not going to be able to make it for the show, but I have the catalogue and I love it! Very informative and the reproductions are stunning.
    Thanks for sharing!

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  3. Ahh, I wish I could go, but a 9 hour drive each way is fairly prohibitive. I do love their works though, such talent to show such texture and light! I love how the backgrounds can appear muddy, yet the subjects are always popping out - the first image you showed..the man in white silk...you can see the texture of the silk, it makes you almost want to touch it and see if it is real :)
    Thank you so much for sharing!

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  4. I can't wait to see this exhibit. I'm hoping to go this weekend. Thanks for a great review.

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  5. I plan to go tomorrow, Lauren .. and then head down to the Frick afterwards for the other Watteau exhibit.

    This is a terrific review and makes me even more excited to see it.

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  6. @lesliecarroll Oh I am glad you are going! Be sure to let me know what you thought. I would also love to hear your opinion on the show at the Frick!

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  7. I'm back! (from the Met and the Frick). I have to say I was very taken with the pastoral paintings at the Met (Lancret and Pater). The plein air scenes at a country fair, or dance depict the few occasions when the classes intersected. And I loved all the different things going on in some of the large canvases; each pair or grouping of people tells its own micro-story. It always amuses me to see the couples at various stages of amorous pursuit while other couples are busy with their own seductions, glance with amusement at the lovers fumbling with bodices in public, or pay no attention at all to the myriad courtships happening around them.

    No one in the painting is a voeyeur of anyone else in the tableau. We -- the viewers -- become the voyeurs. I love that irony and perspective.

    The kids are deliciously oblivious, too. In Lancret's "Dance Before a Fountain," there's a little girl in the lower right quadrant of the painting whose laces at the back of her bodice haven't been done up all the way, suggesting that the adult in charge of dressing her was to preoccupied with her own amatory plans, to properly dress the child -- and consequently, the kid dressed herself as best as she could reach.

    I loved the theatre scenes as well, because it's one of the rare milieus where men and women are social equals.

    And Lancret's "Camargo Dancing" depicts the greatest female artist of the age, doing what brought her such renown. Camargo is still so famous that Capezio named one of their pointe shoe styles for her!

    The paintings capture the manners, mores, and (for fashionista-novelists like me) the clothing.

    As for the which I perennially adore, I made some discoveries there, too, in addition to some of the drawings in the special exhibit that depicted things (like landscapes) for which the artists were not especially known.

    And in visiting the rest of the rooms, I made some discoveries as well: I never realized that the panels in the Boucher room were commissioned by Mme. de Pompadour, and that the room also houses a bust of Louis XV as a 5 year old child.

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