Fêtes Venitiennes

Oil painting of fashionable figures gathered in garden

Jean-Antoine Watteau (French, 1684–1721)
Fêtes Vénitiennes, 1718–19
Oil on canvas
22 x 18 in.
Scottish National Gallery, Edinburgh
© Trustees of the National Galleries of Scotland

An especially sensual nude sculpture overlooks a gathering of elegant people in a parkland setting at dusk. To the tune of a musette (small bagpipe) played by the musician in shepherd’s dress at far right, a man in exotic costume and a woman in the elegant fashion of the day perform a stately dance. Rendered in fine brushstrokes and soft, sparkling tones, this celebrated work evidently had personal meaning for the artist. Technical analysis shows that at a late stage in its execution, Watteau gave the features of his close friend the Franco-Flemish painter Nicolas Vleughels to the strutting male dancer and his own to the lovelorn musette player — perhaps an allusion to a competition between the two men for the affection of the same woman, or a risqué joke.

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