French artist Watteau features in rival London shows

Fri Mar 11, 2011 8:43am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Whether by coincidence or design, French 18th century artist Jean-Antoine Watteau has two major London shows dedicated to him, both opening on Saturday.

The Royal Academy's show "Watteau: The Drawings" focuses on the artist as draughtsman, an important element of his work which acquaintances said he preferred to painting.

At the nearby Wallace Collection, the museum has re-displayed its extensive Watteau canvases including examples of the "fete galante" -- an elegant social gathering in parkland setting -- for which the artist is probably best known today.

To accompany the re-hanging, the Wallace put on a separate exhibition on Jean de Jullienne, one of the most important art collectors of his time who edited a collection of prints of Watteau's works which appeared after the artist's death.

While both galleries stressed that their exhibitions should be seen as complementary rather than in competition, privately sources said they would have preferred to avoid such a clash.

The Royal Academy has gathered more than 80 works on paper which underline why Watteau's works on paper were so admired by contemporaries.

Mainly in red or a combination of red, black and white chalk, the drawings capture a host of characters from seated Savoyards to soldiers to a reclining nude.

They are often taken from real life and, unlike the idyllic, tranquil and aristocratic fetes galantes, reflect the teeming and filthy streets of Paris in the early 1700s.   Continued...