Jean Antoine Watteau
French, 1684–1721
Fête champêtre (Pastoral Gathering)
1718/21

Oil on panel
48.6 x 64.5 cm (19 1/16 x 25 3/8 in.)
Max and Leola Epstein Collection, 1954.295

Jean-Antoine Watteau is known for his lyrical depictions of well-bred gentlemen and ladies engaged in intimate conversation and music making in park-like settings. This type of painting is known as a fête galante (roughly translated as “elegant party”), and it has come to define the opulent and refined atmosphere of the early Rococo period in France.

Watteau’s Fête Champêtre contains more than 19 figures variously grouped in a lush forest. The activities and poses of the figures have been interpreted as references to the various phases of love: from childhood innocence to adult consummation. At the far left of the painting a trio of young girls collects flowers and fantasizes about being in love. To their right an adolescent girl seems in transition: she sits with the adults but looks back to the children, admiring their youth. On her right, a young man flirts unsuccessfully with another young woman. To their right a young lady holding sheets of music in her lap seems entranced by a guitarist and his song. Finally, to their right, is a woman with a male companion who are about to follow another couple into the woods.

Watteau’s figures are depicted in a graceful and poetic manner, consistent with the light-hearted style of Rococo art. His lovers wear luxurious costumes that combine contemporary apparel with elements of Renaissance dress and theatrical costume. The figural poses, palette of colors, and the application of paint are elements that help confirm the attribution of this unsigned work to Watteau. For more than 50 years, the painting’s authorship remained in question. More recent scientific examinations undertaken by the Art Institute have revealed the work to be primarily by Watteau, but it may have been completed by a follower, probably the painter Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Pater.

Find information about how the analysis of this painting led to its reattribution to Watteau.