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Watteau: The Drawings - Royal Academy of Arts

Jean-Antoine Watteau. Three Studies of Soldiers Holding Guns, 1715. Red chalk on paper. 151 x 199 mm. Collection Frits Lugt, Fondation Custodia, Paris.

Exhibition preview

THE ROYAL Academy of Arts is presenting the first major retrospective exhibition of Jean-Antoine Watteau’s drawings to be held in the UK. Entitled Watteau: The Drawings, it will be on display from March 12 to June 5, 2011.

The exhibition will contain over 80 works on paper produced by the French artist. The exhibition will be organised chronologically and will examine the development and mastery of his drawing methods.

Watteau (1684 – 1721) is perhaps best known for his invention of fetes galantes, a new genre of small pictures of social gatherings of elegant people in parkland settings. Examples of these, together with theatre pieces, portraits and shop interiors, will be on display.

Drawing lay at the heart of Watteau’s creative process; he prized his drawings and kept them in bound volumes which enabled him to refer to them when composing his paintings as they were an essential source of inspiration for figure poses.

Throughout his career, Watteau worked continually in red chalk and early works using this medium on display will include The Shipwreck c.1710 and Interior of a Draper’s Shop c.1710-11.

Although he achieved as broad a range of colour and tone as is possible through this medium, he is best known for his mastery of the trois crayons technique, the subtle manipulation and expert balancing of red, black and white. He made very little use of pen and ink and occasionally combined chalk with graphite, and also employed washes.

Watteau: The Drawings will demonstrate the breadth of his oeuvre.

Watteau made drawings of figures in poses that were charming, ambiguous and natural. The subjects depicted in his drawings varied enormously from the highly exotic, portrayed in works such as Seated Persian Wearing a Turban, c.1715, to the itinerant Standing Savoyard, c.1715, and the joyous spirit of fantasy Woman on a Swing, Seen from the Back, c.1715.

Watteau’s influence has been subtle and profound, pre-empting the spirit of the French Rococo and foreshadowing the work of the Impressionists in execution and treatment of colour.

Watteau’s posthumous reputation can be measured by the fact that within a few years of his death in 1721, over three hundred of his drawings had been published as etchings in two volumes (1726, 1728). His work both as a draughtsman and as a painter influenced subsequent generations of French artists, notably Francois Boucher and Jean-Honore Fragonard.

The exhibition has been organised by the Royal Academy of Arts and curated by Pierre Rosenberg, Academie Francaise, President-Directeur of the Musee du Louvre, Louis-Antoine Prat, Charge de mission, Departement des Arts graphiques, Musee du Louvre and Katia Pisvin, Royal Academy of Arts, London.

To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Academy of Arts will publish a fully illustrated catalogue. The introductory essay will include a biographical account of Watteau’s life and career, and a consideration of the role of drawing in his creative process.

There will also be a piece on Watteau’s drawing technique and practice, and an essay by Martin Eidelberg charting the growth in appreciation of Watteau’s drawings in England.

Esprit de Verite: Watteau and his Circle will be on display from March 12 to June 5, 2011, at the Wallace Collection.

Admission: £10 full price; £8 registered disabled and 60+ years; £7 NUS/ISIC cardholders; £3 12-18 years and Income Support; £3 8-11 years; 7 and under free; RA Friends free.

Times: Daily from 10am to 6pm (last admission 5.30pm), Fridays until 10pm (last admission 9.30pm).

Royal Academy of Arts, Burlington House, Piccadilly, London, W1J 0BD

Telephone (public information): 020 7300 8000

Modern British Sculpture continues at the Royal Academy of Arts until April 7, 2011.