Monday, October 26, 2015


I have been reading Antoine's Alphabet by Jed Perl, one of my favorite art writers and critic.

I am  (always) tossing about new approaches to the figurative. I have always been charmed and seduced by the Commedia dell' Arte with its Harlequins and Pierrots which figure strongly in Watteau's work. Cezanne, Picasso, Derain and scores of other artists of every (Diaghilev in ballet)  stripe were. But there is another element of fascination with Watteau- beyond the seeming superficiality of the charmed indulgences of those fete galantes, it is the shimmering evanescence of his paintings. You go to grasp something- a face, a cupid and it is gone. You cannot fix on any one part before it  unravels before you, like existence. Like the mutability of his paintings- Watteau had no fixed address or studio.

 I cannot help but contrast his ungraspable gorgeousness to the current state of the celebration of the rigid - the photographic style promoted by sites such as the Art Renewal Center, BP Portrait Awards and the American Portrait Society of America Life, lyricism and mystery suffocated by heavy hands. They are celebrations of the art of the photographic copy.

I find a lot to learn in Mr Perl's book- not just about Watteau, but about painting in general.

Here are three of my favorite Watteaus: I have included the Wikipedia links so they can be better appreciated.
Pierrot (Gilles) 72.5" x 58.7"
I cannot tell you how much I love this painting. It is the kind of painting that stays with you from the first viewing unlike so many others that fall away immediately.  The short pantaloons and floppy apricot bows touchingly underscore the dignity and pathos of this Pierrot- whose humanity communicates through more than three centuries.
"Feast in Venice" 22.5" x 18"
 Exquisitely designed- the dark, slightly malevolent and commanding male dancer surrounded by light heightens the lovely woman in heavenly blue silk. If you see the close-up of the dark male figure you will see that Watteau had him originally in a more challenging pose- now he dances. I find the tiny size astonishing- so much content packed into a small canvas a refreshing change in our era that celebrates the bombast of Koon's outsized horrors. 
"Gersaint's Sign" 64" x 121"
The organization of figures in this painting kills me. On the right, the black of the woman's robe edges the curve of her skirt which is carried around the arc of the mirror. Try to see an enlargement of this painting- it is full of charm and surprizes. The man in the white wig, for instance, is looking at the nudes at the bottom of the circular painting.

No comments: