Artworks
Fête Galante in a Wooded Landscape
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Jean-Antoine Watteau’s Fete Galante in a Wooded Landscape is basically softcore porn for the 18th century.

The 'Fete galante' is a specific genre of painting born out of the Rococo movement, and invented by Watteau. These paintings portray middle class and wealthy people outdoors, often courting each other and enjoying the sensuous pleasure of music and comedy. As in many Fete Galantes there is no central story, but instead a smatter of people hanging out, canoodling, and even chilling with a cute dog. Often these paintings portrayed rich people decked out in powdered wigs and big skirts but sometimes his paintings portrayed a mix of people. In Embarkation for Cythera, for example, peasants and fashionistas are all experiencing the pitfalls and joys of love in pretty much the same way.

Wooded Landscape, at first glance, looks like a picnic. But don’t be fooled! The Rococo period was all about pushing the boundaries of expressing sensuality and portraying the simple pleasures of cute clothes, cute boys, and the great outdoors. Although there’s only one nude figure in this painting (and it’s a statue), this work paved the way for sexy works in this period and on, like Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass. Nudes of the baroque period of art, which directly preceded Watteau’s arrival in Paris, were usually dramatic and gory, but Watteau wanted to have some fun! How much fun, we will never know, as many of his paintings were burned after his early death. Everyone who’s anyone expects that they were mostly nudes.

That statue is having a great time, she’s posed as if grabbing her foot and adjusting her posture while smiling, and she seems to almost glow. She’s very lifelike, looking almost as real in movement as the other figures, and twice as fleshy. Probably depicting Aphrodite, she is the relief to the underlying sexual tension all over this painting. While she can let her freak flag fly, and I suspect the mysterious and somewhat isolated Watteau used this as an opportunity to fly his too, the other figures stay restrained and clothed.

Eventually, despite some potentially utopian intention, Fete Galante fell out of style, basically in tandem with the falling of Marie Antoinette’s head. It seems the real people of France were bored of elitist bull like wearing silk outdoors. And I wouldn’t blame them, as I imagine mud is incredibly difficult to get out of taffeta.

 

Sources

Sources

  1. Baetjer, Katharine, and Cowart, Georgia. Watteau, Music, and Theater. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2009.
  2. Roland, Michel. Watteau, an Artist of the Eighteenth Century. New York: Alpine Fine Arts, 1984.
  3. Güner, Fisun. "Fully Fleshed." America's Current Affairs & Politics Magazine. March 31, 2011. Accessed March 27, 2019. https://www.newstatesman.com/art/2011/03/watteau-french-artist-erotic.
  4. Vogtherr, Christoph, and Joy Schaverien. "An Exploration of Antoine Watteau's Fête Galante in a Wooded Landscape." Society of Analytical Psychology. 2014. Accessed March 28, 2019. https://www.thesap.org.uk/events/anexploration-of-antoine-watteaus-fete-ga