Like his teacher Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), Pater was a native of Valenciennes and he would have had many opportunities in his youth to study the soldiers garrisoned in the town during the later years of the War of Spanish Succession (1701-1713). Indeed, it is possible that as a boy Pater first came to know Watteau when the older artist returned to his hometown for a brief visit in 1710, a period during which Watteau himself made a number of paintings and drawings of military subjects. Pater followed his master’s example in becoming a specialist in paintings of military themes, in 1728 submitting to the Académie Royal the canvas Soldiers Celebrating (Louvre, Paris) as his reception piece. Ingersoll-Smouse, the author of Pater’s catalogue raisonné, recorded more than seventy military paintings by the artist, many of them extant.
The present depiction of a traveling military encampment is a superb example of Pater’s essays in the genre. The painting adheres closely to the model established by Watteau: ordinary soldiers, officers and servants, and the women and children who follow the garrison from one encampment to another, are depicted at their leisure, far from the heat of battle, as they rest, sleep, smoke, play cards, amiably converse, and daydream. Each is characterized with a lively wit and energy and executed in fluent and colorful strokes of the brush.
Each figure would have been studied in an individual red chalk drawing that laid out its pose and worked out details of costume and expression. Several of these figure studies are known today, including a red-chalk sketch for the seated woman in a blue skirt and red bodice in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, and a lively sketch for the standing pipe-smoker in a blue coat beside her, in the Fritz Lugt Collection, Fondation Custodia, Institut Néerlandais, Paris. Perhaps as a mark of his satisfaction with the composition, the artist completed it with one of his comparatively rare signatures.