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Riddles of "Pilgrimage to the island of Kieferu" Watteau: Why the artist renamed his painting
Riddles of "Pilgrimage to the island of Kieferu" Watteau: Why the artist renamed his painting

On Saturday 28 August 1717, Antoine Watteau presented a painting for which he was admitted to the French Academy. The canvas, depicting a gallant celebration, quickly gained the approval of its members and spawned a new genre in the painting of that era. But then something went wrong, in any case, the artist changed the name of his canvas.

Royal Academy


Antoine Watteau, the French Rococo artist and founder of the "gallant festival", made the main object of his painting the island of love of Greek mythology, visible in the background and inhabited by countless cupids. In the ancient world, Kythera is one of the Greek islands, which was considered the birthplace of Aphrodite (Venus), the goddess of love. Thus, the island became sacred to lovers. It is noteworthy that this island is the southernmost and most eastern part of the Ionian group of islands. The mountain ranges rise up to 1,663 feet.

The described island of Kiefer (today - Kythera)

This is an island paradise, painted with vivid landscapes that will enchant even the most fastidious of viewers. The painting shows young ladies and gentlemen in festive attire, ready to take a gondola and head towards the island of love. Historians are still arguing whether the lovers are going to the island or are they really preparing to leave? Most are inclined to leave them. Watteau's work celebrates love, with cupids flying around couples and "tying" their hearts. The statue of Aphrodite is also significant. The glowing colors testify to the influence of Venetian painting on Watteau. The painting depicts a celebration common to the aristocratic society of France, which is seen as a procession of pleasure and peace after the long and dark years of the reign of Louis XIV. In the foreground are three pairs of lovers. Several more happy ones are depicted at the foot of the hill. Thin light strokes of the artist make the picture fabulous, magical, almost unreal. The foggy and mountainous landscape is skillfully painted, the costumes of the heroes are carefully detailed, strokes of extraordinary beauty are used in the image of trees. The neutral palette of the landscape is gracefully complemented by the bright pastels of the lovers' costumes.


Name change

The painting, originally named by the artist "Pilgrimage to the Island of Kieferu", was renamed "Gallant Festival" for presentation to academicians. Subsequently, this work of the artist gave birth to a new genre of painting - "gallant celebration", which was practiced by Watteau's imitators - Jean-Baptiste Pater and Nicolas Lancre. What caused this transformation of the name? The fact is that the mention of Kythera, the island of the goddess Aphrodite, referred to antiquity, to Greco-Roman mythology. And the author's title prepared the viewer for a canvas full of deities and people in ancient robes. Meanwhile, Watteau painted pairs of men and women, dressed in the fashion of his time. From mythology, there are only winged cupids circling in a whirlwind in the background, and from Antiquity - a statue of Aphrodite with broken hands. The name “gallant celebration” gently removes this discrepancy: the work does not fit into the tradition of mythological, allegorical or decorative painting, which was practiced by Watteau's predecessors and contemporaries and continues to be practiced by some contemporary artists.


The procession includes eight couples. Basically, these are images typical of Antoine Watteau's work: they can be seen in other paintings, sketches, sketches of the artist.The overall impression of the painting is determined by the atmosphere of melancholy, fragility and fragility. The highlight of the work is the slow dynamics of the process.

What kind of celebration is this? And who are these people - comedians or guests of aristocratic entertainment? If we take a closer look at the three couples in the center of the canvas, their conventional poses and understand their play, we will see that the dandy depicts passion, kneeling in front of the lady, and the child (resembling Cupid) spying on them. The second hero helps his lady up. A third man with a shepherd's staff leads the young woman away. Thus, the picture is the personification of the relationship between a lady and a gentleman. In the background, the performance continues, but the expressions on their faces are livelier, the gestures are less modest and restrained. Love triumphs. However, the picture does not so much describe love as it impartially analyzes the roundabout ways that this feeling moves.


Of course, the judges of the Academy of Arts, evaluating the work of Watteau, were shocked by the artist's result - a kind of theatrical universe of Watteau. They were delighted with the new style and gave Antoine Watteau the highest rating any young artist could dream of. However, the genre of “gallant festivities,” popular in his time, ran out of steam a few years after Watteau's death. 80 years after writing the work, during the French Revolution, Watteau's work with his frivolous heroes was associated with the old days of the monarchy and the frivolous aristocracy. The Rococo genre returned to painting in the 1830s. In 1904, Claude Debussy, inspired by a painting by Watteau, wrote a piece for solo piano called L'Isle Joyeuse (French for the Island of Joy). Four decades later, Debussy's compatriot Francis Poulenc wrote a live piece of the same name for two pianos "Pilgrimage to the Island of Kieferu".

The artistic content of Watteau's work is due to two factors: his love for the theater and his passion for the Rococo style. Thus, Jean-Antoine Watteau managed to develop a unique style and revolutionize the art world through his individuality.

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