Saturday, May 9, 2009

Antoine Watteau: 1684-1721 /Verlaine/Debussy/Fauré

Click on the photos to enlarge!

Meeting in the open air

Pierrot Content c. 1712

Fetes Champetres

Italian Comedians



  1. I don't pretend to be any authority on visual art and the aesthetics that apply to it but I find Watteau's work to be very interesting. There are many intricate things happening in the paintings but there is always direction and focus within the paintings. He prioritizes the situation in the painting. A good example of this is in the Italian Comedians. The eye is instantly drawn to the man dressed in white. All of the visual direction is directed to this figure. The lines of the other people help us with this visual goal. I think a person like Debussy was intrigued by these paintings because there is much more depth to the painting because of the interaction between all of the characters, not just the principal character. A more complete message is communicated. I particularly love the couple on the left hand side and also the man dressed in black on the right. They seem to be polar opposite characters, representing very different parts of life and society.

  2. I don’t know what it is about Watteau’s work, but there is something a little satiric about it. Everyone in the pictures looks happy, but there is this something not quite right. Everything is so stylized and decadent, you have to wonder what these people are trying to hide.
    I think one thing Debussy and Verlaine might have really liked about the paintings is the color palate. You can tell what the colors would be in real life, but in the context of the paintings, they are kind of hazy and muted; it gives each of the works an almost dream-like, vague quality. But within this vague overtone, there is a lot of detail, and many things happening at once- all subtly displayed, of course :) I love “The Italian Comedians!” All the characters for Mandoline are there: Tircis and Aminte are off to the left, and Clitendre is to their right. I’m pretty sure that is Damis gesturing to Pierrot in the center- he looks fairly foppish.
    On a totally random subject, does anyone else think that the lady to Pierrot’s right looks like the lady from Madame X by John Singer Sargent? Maybe Sargent was influenced by Watteau in terms of contrast…….. hmmmmm, something to go research.

  3. What I find most interesting in all of the works, and especially in the "Pierrot Content" is the contrast between light and dark, and between the very precise lines to more unfocused areas of the canvas. As Matthew was discussed in his point, this really helps to draw in the eyes to the focus point that is lighter and that has more detail. It's a very different effect to have this large of a contrast in these two areas. I would speculate that both Faure and Debussy really took into consideration the contrast of light and dark, the implied meanings of the light and the dark (happiness, sadness, death, redemption) but also played with the actual colors in their writing. I could also speculate that they both played with the ideas of focused versus unfocused as is seen and possibly inspired by the artwork into their own individual sounds.

  4. I'm certainly not an expert on paintings or, in particular, the stylized figures represented here, but I assume people at the time would have recognized the characters being portrayed and the different aspects of life that they represented. These paintings are visually stunning, with a lot happening, both in the foreground characters, and those in the background, but with a visual focal point that centers everything in a complete whole. I find it interesting that the open air aspect actually gives them a certain sinister air of cynicism, with something somehow "off" about their actions, or at least something sarcastic.

  5. I love the way Watteau plays with light and focus in his paintings. His use of focus is soft, and I find myself drawn to his subjects in a way that is mesmerizing, without realizing that I'm doing exactly what he wants me to do. The subjects seem to have a soft, almost unearthly glow, that contrasts with the warm dark of the backgrounds. I especially find fascinating his portrayals of Pierrot: in Italian Commedians he is obviously the center of attention, and it takes several minutes to fully take in how many other interesting faces are in the painting. The way he uses light makes it seem as though the viewer is privy to Watteau's imagination, because the light doesn't behave the way natural sunlight behaves, but also doesn't look contrived. It's really fascinating!

  6. Unfortunately, I know very little about paintings and art works like this. I do love his use of the focal point. While the Gilles paintings have a focal point that really stands out from the rest of the painting with both color and clarity, "Meeting in the open air" there is nothing that really stood out to me immediately when looking at it. It took a while to observe and really study this work. Something that I found odd specifically in this piece is the statuesque figure in the bottom left of the painting. This looks unlike most of the other things in this work, with the use of color and brightness. Although it is tied in with the rest of the piece with the flowers in front of it and the man studying the statue. These really are interesting works of art with a wonderful naturalistic quality.

  7. These paintings are elegant, sophisticated, detailed, soft, refined, but also infused with the theatrical/whimsical. All of this seems very French and relates to the characteristics of the French art song we are studying- the opposition of light/dark, introversion/extroversion, transparent/opaque. But most of all, the paintings convey compelling ambiguity which is echoed in Verlaines poetry and Debussy music.

  8. Watteau's scenes are stunning and filled with a beautiful array of colors and textures; I find his use of detail in the creation of the focal points of the painting juxtaposed with the ambiguity of the figures lurking in the shadows to be very intriguing. It is really neat to compare the paintings to each of Faure's and Debussy's settings of Mandoline.