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Saturday, April 18, 2015

Jean-Baptiste Pater

The Fair at Bezons, 1730, Jean Baptiste Joseph Pater
Jean Baptiste Pater Self-portrait
In the world of art today there are few styles of painting more ignored, under-appreciated, perhaps even detested, than French Rococo from the 18-century. Once you get by a few big names from this period, Antoine Watteau, Francois Boucher, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Nicholas Lancret, and some like to lump Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin in with this group, there isn't much to talk about. Personally I dislike associating Chardin with the Rococo in that, though he lived and worked during this era, most of his work is much more in the realm of genre rather than the cotton candy sweetness of Rococo. There's a robust, solid, earthiness to Chardin's work that sets it well apart from the Rococo. On the other hand, perhaps the artist most associated with the Rococo style is Antoine Watteau. And one of several Rococo artists Watteau instruct (though only briefly) was Jean-Baptiste Pater.

Little Girls at Play, Jean-Baptiste Pater
Scene Galante, Jean-Baptiste Pater
If the French Rococo style is all but ignored as having little or nothing of substance to contribute to art today, Pater's work, such as his The Fair at Bezons (top), from 1730, falls all the more into that category (and this is one of his better pieces). In reality, had it not been for his association with Watteau and the fact that the Prussian King, Frederick II (the Great), took a liking to him, Pater would be considered totally insignificant. His Scene Galante (right) veers toward genre but still contains the frivolous element for which the Rococo is so distained. Nonetheless, for those with an artistic "sweet tooth" his work, as seen in Little Girls at Play (above), is fascinating to contemplate when you crave a quick sugar high.

The Happy Lovers, Jean-Baptiste Pater
Women Bathing, Jean-Baptiste Pater
Jean-Baptiste Pater was born in 1695. His father was the Valenciennes (northern France) sculptor, Antoine Pater, from whom the young boy obtained his initial art instruction. In 1713, at the age of eighteen, Jean-Baptiste Pater took up residence in Paris where he began his studies with Watteau. However Watteau is said to have mistreated his young student (not an uncommon occurrence at that time) to the point the young artist returned home to the shelter of his father's workshop for two full years. Eventually, there was a reconciliation with Watteau sufficient to encourage him to return to the master's studio, only to have Watteau die a month later. Nonetheless, Pater claimed to have learned all he knew about painting from Watteau, which may have been true, but given their relatively short time together, not in the sense Pater intended.

The Grape Harvest, 1720, Jean-Baptiste Pater
Bather, 1730, Jean-Baptiste Pater
In any case, Jean-Baptiste Pater had apparently learned enough about painting from Watteau to attain acceptance into the French Academy with his The Grape Harvest (above) from 1720. It's not exactly Rococo, but neither is it typical of Pater's later work. Most of Pater's paintings fall into three content categories, Women Bathing (above left) or his boudoir scenes such as his The Boudoir (below) from 1730. Also from around 1730, Pater's The Bather (right) tends to combine the two. Pater's works are among the more erotic of all the major Rococo painters, which says quite a lot in that quite a lot of Rococo art has latent sexual undercurrents or overtones (take your pick). Along the same line, a third category of Pater's work could be called "seductions" or, more politely, courtships. The Boudoir (below) falls into both categories. In the latter years of his career, Pater moved somewhat away from the so-called "Fete Galante" frivolity for which the Rococo is best known toward more architectural depictions, though not without much the same amorous activities involving his figures. This gradual shift was cut short by Pater's death in 1736, at the early age of forty-two. (Watteau had been just thirty-six when he died of tuberculosis.)

The Boudoir, 1730s, Jean-Baptiste Pater
Incidentally, Pater's greatest fan, Frederick II, much preferred fantasy art featuring eastern sultans and their harems. Pater's Le Sultan au Harem (below) and his Le Sultan au Jardin, (bottom) were both boudoir pieces, purchased by the king. If not necessarily of the boudoir, then likely intended for the boudoir. It would seem erotic art has come a long way since the Rococo era.

Le Sultan au Harem, Jean-Baptiste Pater
Le Sultan au Jardin, Jean-Baptiste Pater


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