Masterpieces of European Painting from Dulwich Picture Gallery
March 9 through May 30, 2010
Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684–1721) Les Plaisirs du bal (Pleasures of the Dance)
Oil on canvas
Bourgeois Bequest, 1811
There are no fewer than sixty-five participants in Watteau’s open-air ball. Along with musicians and servants, we see revelers variously attired in contemporary silk gowns and satin breeches, theatrical costumes, and fancy dress. Youthful couples engage in the different stages of love’s flirtation, while the presence of children and pets serves to defuse the erotic tension of the scene.
This expansive, multifigured composition is one of Watteau’s most ambitious fêtes galantes — the genre he invented that depicted scenes of courtship and romance in outdoor settings. Watteau has placed his protagonists in a soaring open-air loggia of Renaissance magnificence, with gray and white banded columns, lifelike marble caryatids, and an ornamentally paved floor. Few of the guests pay much attention to the central couple dancing a stately minuet, and Watteau’s achievement here is to have created so many different groupings — at no detriment to the overall harmony of his composition.
The exhibition, in the Frick’s Oval Room and Garden Court, is co-organized by Colin B. Bailey, Associate Director and Peter Jay Sharp Chief Curator at the Frick, and Xavier F. Salomon, Arturo and Holly Melosi Chief Curator at Dulwich. A fully illustrated catalogue, written by Dr. Salomon, features an essay on the origins of the collection at Dulwich as well as comprehensive entries on the nine works.
Principal funding for the exhibition is provided by Christie's and Melvin R. Seiden.
Additional support is generously provided by John and Constance Birkelund, Mr. and Mrs. Walter A. Eberstadt, Fiduciary Trust Company International, Barbara G. Fleischman, Francis Finlay, and Hester Diamond.
The accompanying catalogue is made possible by Jon and Barbara Landau.
This exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.