Brussels’ Bozar and the Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille organized a sprawling Watteau exhibition in 2013. What impressed me there, were not his paintings, but Watteau’s drawings. So on hearing another Watteau exhibition would open – in Haarlem, of course I decided to have a look.
The present Watteau exhibition can be visited at the Netherlands’ oldest museum, the Teylers Museum. This is not just a science or natural history museum, but also has a collection of paintings, drawings, prints and much more. It and Frankfurt’s Städel Museum cooperated to put together the small exhibition which gives a beautiful impression of Watteau’s art.
The nice thing of this exhibition is, that it is totally accessible for wheelchairs and people needing support while walking. This was not the case at Brussels’ Bozar, where I watched fellow visitors turning back because the exhibition there was either too exhausting, or unsuitable for those needing a wheelchair.
The Teylers and Städel museums’ exhibition consists of a main exhibition room and two smaller ones. One of these focuses on coins and images of Louis XIV used as propaganda and is linked to Watteau’s early life. The other room shows how designs and works by Watteau and his followers, were known to the 18th century public through prints.
These two rooms are linked to the main exhibition by a corridor. This corridor shows modern works by students of the Amsterdam Rietveld Academie, inspired by Watteau’s fêtes galantes. Exhibits also illustrate how the Italian Commedia dell ‘arte which inspired Watteau, continues to inspire modern artists. In this corridor, visitors can also obtain their free exhibition audio tour which can be set to Dutch or English.
The main exhibition starts with a small pastel portrait of Watteau, by Rosalba Carriera. She met Watteau while visiting Paris. While this exhibition starts with a portrait by a contemporary, towards the end of the room, one finds works by Watteau’s followers and only student. They may have been extremely talented too, the differences with the master show. In the middle of the exhibition is a beautiful example of the so-called robe française or sack-back gown, which many ladies in Watteau’s paintings wear. It shows what became known as the plis Watteau.
This exhibition contains over sixty drawings and paintings from the Teylers and Frankfurt Städel Museum, as well as from other collections. The drawings are exquisite. The paintings lovely. The exhibition manages to cover many aspects of Watteau’s art, style, influence.
It’s only drawback? Nothing both museums can help: it’s the size of Watteau’s paintings and drawings, which are often no larger than a sketchbook page. If there are many visitors, one must put up with being jolted, pushed, bumped into. Or having to wait till fellow visitors move on, to be able to admire the works at the right distance to appreciate details. Nevertheless: this is a delightful, exquisite exhibition well worth a visit.
“Watteau” can be admired at the Teylers Museum, Haarlem till the 14th of May 2017.
The (Dutch) exhibition catalogue, by curators Michiel Plomp (Teylers) and Martin Sonnabend (Frankfurt Städel) containing contributions by Watteau expert Christoph Martin Vogtherr, is available at the museum shop for 29.90 Euro.