FRICK EXHIBITION TO EXAMINE A FRESH THEME IN THE WORK OF JEAN-ANTOINE WATTEAU
WATTEAU’S SOLDIERS: SCENES OF MILITARY LIFE IN EIGHTEENTH-CENTURY FRANCE
July 12 through October 2, 2016
Press Preview: Monday, July 11, 2016, 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
The Frick Collection, 1 East 70th Street, New York, NY 10021; RSVP: 212.547.0710
Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), The Portal of Valenciennes, ca. 1711–12, oil on canvas, The Frick Collection; photo: Michael Bodycomb
Watteau, Three Views of a Soldier, One from Behind, ca. 1713–15, red chalk, Musée du Louvre, Paris; photo: © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY
Most know Jean-Antoine Watteau as a painter of amorous aristocrats and melancholy actors, a dreamer of exquisite parklands and impossibly refined fêtes. Few artists would seem further removed from the misery of war. And yet, early in his short career, Watteau created a number of military scenes—about a dozen paintings and some thirty drawings. For the most part, they were executed during the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), which saw Louis XIV battle almost the whole of Europe in a bid to place his grandson, Philip, Duke of Anjou, on the Spanish throne. However, neither the turmoil of battle nor the suffering that ensued seems to have held much interest for Watteau. Instead, he focused on the prosaic aspects of military life—marches, halts, and encampments. The resulting works show quiet moments between the fighting, outside the regimented discipline of drills and battle, when soldiers could rest and daydream, smoke pipes and play cards. Although these themes are indebted to seventeenth-century Dutch and Flemish genre scenes, Watteau’s drawings and paintings are set apart by their focus on the common soldier. More than his predecessors, Watteau offers an intimate vision of war, one in which the human element comes to the fore. His soldiers are endowed with an inner life, with subjectivity.
This summer, the Frick will present Watteau’s Soldiers: Scenes of Military Life in Eighteenth-Century France, the first exhibition devoted to these captivating and little-known works. On display will be four of Watteau’s seven surviving military paintings and twelve red chalk studies, several of which are directly related to the paintings on view. Also included will be works by Watteau’s predecessors and followers. Together, they shed light on Watteau’s unusual working method, affording the opportunity to probe what made his vision so distinctive. Watteau’s Soldiers: Scenes of Military Life in Eighteenth-Century France was organized by Aaron Wile, Anne L. Poulet Curatorial Fellow. Principal support was provided by an anonymous gift in memory of Melvin R. Seiden. Major support for the exhibition has also been provided by the David L. Klein, Jr. Foundation, Sally and Howard Lepow, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and Aso O. Tavitian, with an additional contribution from Susannah Hunnewell Weiss. The catalogue was made possible by The Versailles Foundation, Inc.
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