Watteau, Music, and Theater, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  • NEW YORK, New York
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  • September 13, 2009

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The French Comedians, 1720–21 Jean Antoine Watteau (French, 1684–1721) Oil on canvas 22 1/2 x 28 3/4 in. (57.2 x 73 cm) The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.54)
Metropolitan Museum of Art

Watteau, Music, and Theater, the first exhibition of Jean-Antoine Watteau's paintings in the United States in 25 years, will be presented at The Metropolitan Museum of Art from September 22 through November 29. The exhibition will demonstrate the place of music and theater in Watteau's art, exploring the tension between an imagery of power, associated with the court of Louis XIV, and a more optimistic and mildly subversive imagery of pleasure that was developed in opera-ballet and theater early in the 18th century. It will demonstrate that the painter's vision was influenced directly by musical works devoted to the island of Cythera, the home of Venus, and to the Venetian carnival, and will shed new light on a number of Watteau's pictures.

The exhibition is made possible by The Florence Gould Foundation.

Watteau, Music, and Theater will feature more than 60 works of art, consisting of major loans of paintings and drawings by Watteau and his contemporaries from collections in the United States and Europe. The balance of the paintings will be drawn from the Metropolitan Museum's collections, together with most of the works on paper, and all of the musical instruments, gold boxes, and ceramics.

Watteau, Music, and Theater will honor Philippe de Montebello, Director Emeritus of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Born in 1684 in Valenciennes in the Hainault (French, but formerly part of the Spanish Netherlands), Jean-Antoine Watteau is widely considered the most important artist in early 18th-century France. A solitary, ill-educated, self-taught, largely itinerant figure, he was a supremely gifted painter and draftsman whose surviving works of art are his testament. Most of them are so-called fêtes galantes, idyllic scenes that have no specifically identifiable subject. Only one of Watteau's paintings, The Embarkation for Cythera (1717), was publicly exhibited in his lifetime. Watteau died in 1720 at the age of 36 after a long illness.

While relatively little is known about Watteau, an expanding body of literature relating to Paris opera-ballet, plays, and the less formal and more traditional seasonal théâtres de la foire relates to specific works in the exhibition, and these can now be mined more deeply to examine the artist's life and work.

Among the many highlights of Watteau, Music, and Theater will be the Metropolitan Museum's Watteau paintings Mezzetin and French Comedians; the Städel Museum'sThe Island of Cythera; Pleasures of the Dance from the Dulwich Picture Gallery; Love in the French Theater and Love in the Italian Theater, both from the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin; and The Alliance of Music and Comedy (private collection), which has not been on view in any museum in decades.

The exhibition will mark the first time the painting La Surprise (private collection) will be seen in a museum. Lost for almost 200 years and presumed to have been destroyed, La Surprise was rediscovered last year in a British country house and later sold at auction.

Exquisite drawings by Watteau, including works from the Art Institute of Chicago, The Sterling and Francine Clark Institute, Massachusetts, and The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, will also be featured.

Other lenders to the exhibition are Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Brodick Castle, Isle of Arran (National Trust for Scotland); Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid; Schloss Sansoucci, Potsdam (Stiftung Preussische Schlösser und Gärten Berlin-Brandenburg); Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; and National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Pictures by Lancret will come from Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation, Dallas; The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; and Alte Pinakothek, Munich.

The exhibition will also include works by contemporaries of Watteau, including Nicolas Lancret and Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Pater, who were influenced by him; fine drawings and engravings by other 18th-century European artists; Meissen porcelain figures depicting theatrical characters; and musical instruments of the era, including a rare Musette de Cour, or early bagpipe, from the Metropolitan Museum's collection.

The exhibition is organized by Katharine Baetjer, Curator in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of European Paintings, with Georgia J. Cowart, Professor in the Department of Music at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue with an introduction by Pierre Rosenberg, de l'Académie française, Honorary President-Director of the Musée du Louvre, and an essay by Georgia J. Cowart. Other contributors to the catalogue are Katharine Baetjer, Jayson Kerr Dobney, Jeffrey Munger, and Perrin Stein, all of the Metropolitan Museum; Christoph Martin Vogtherr, curator at The Wallace Collection, London; Kim de Beaumont, Esther Bell, Mary Tavener Holmes, and Anna Piotrowska.

The catalogue is made possible by the Drue E. Heinz Fund.

An array of educational programs will complement the exhibition, including gallery talks, documentary film screenings, and a Sunday at the Met program on October 25 featuring a talk by Georgia J. Cowart and a musical demonstration by Robert Mealy and Friends. "Watteau and Words: A Reading of French Poetry" with Philippe de Montebello will take place in the Museum's Grace Rainey Rogers Auditorium on November 19.

Additionally, a small program of concerts performed in the exhibition's galleries will be planned.

The concert program is made possible by Mr. and Mrs. David T. Schiff.

An Audio Guide of commentary and music from the period will be available for rental ($7, $6 for members, and $5 for children under 12).

The Audio Guide is sponsored by Bloomberg.

The exhibition and its related programs will be featured on the Museum's website at www.metmuseum.org.

Exhibition Dates: September 22 – November 29, 2009Exhibition Location: European Paintings, Gallery 2, 2nd floorPress Preview: Monday, September 21, 10:00 a.m. –noon

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The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world's largest and finest art museums. Its collections include more than two million works of art spanning 5,000 years of world culture, from prehistory to the present and from every part of the globe. Founded in 1870, the Metropolitan Museum is located in New York City's Central Park along Fifth Avenue (from 80th to 84th Streets). Last year it was visited by 5.2 million people.

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