Jean-Baptiste Pater (Valenciennes 1695-1736 Paris), after Antoine Watteau
Jean-Baptiste Pater (Valenciennes 1695-1736 Paris), after Antoine Watteau

Les Plaisirs du Bal

Jean-Baptiste Pater (Valenciennes 1695-1736 Paris), after Antoine Watteau
Les Plaisirs du Bal
oil on canvas
21¾ x 27½ in. (55.3 x 70 cm.)
Lord North, Wroxton Abbey, Banbury; sold Christie's, London, 13 July 1895, lot 63, as ‘Antoine Watteau' (1,000 gns. to Agnew).
Anonymous sale [The Property of a Gentleman]; Christie's, London, 8 July 1988, lot 61.
Anonymous sale; Christie's, London, 6 July 2006, lot 58.
G. Scharf, Catalogue Raisonné or a list of the Pictures in Blenheim Palace, London, 1862, p. 64, as 'Watteau'.
E. de Goncourt, Catalogue Raisonné de l'Oeuvre peint, dessiné et gravé d'Antoine Watteau, Paris, 1875, pp. 140-1, as 'Watteau'.
E. Zimmerman, Watteau [Klassiker der Kunst], Stuttgart and Leipzig, 1912, p. 188, under S. 79, as 'a copy after Watteau'.
E. Dacier and A. Vuaflart, Jean de Jullienne et les Graveurs de Watteau au XVIIIe Siècle, Paris, 1921-22, p. 56, under no. 114, as 'copy by Pater'.
F. Ingersoll-Smouse, Pater, Paris, 1921, p. 87, under no. 609, as 'a copy [by Pater] after Watteau'.
C. Bunt, 'One Subject by Watteau - and Others', The Connoisseur, CXIX, June 1947, pp. 97-98, illustrated, as 'a copy after Watteau'.
H. Adhémar, Watteau, Paris, 1950, p. 228, no. 196, as 'copie or réplique' after Watteau.
P. Rosenberg, Watteau, exhibition catalogue, Grand Palais, Paris, 1984, p. 370, under 'oeuvres en rapport'.
J. Ingamells, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Pictures, III, London, 1989, p. 296, under no. P420, note 6, as an 'entirely accurate copy by Pater'.

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Lot Essay

Jean-Baptiste Pater was Antoine Watteau’s only documented pupil. Both painters were natives of Valenciennes, and Pater’s father, Antoine Pater, was a local sculptor of some distinction. It is probable that the young Pater was introduced to Watteau when the artist returned briefly to his hometown in 1709, and that Pater subsequently accompanied Watteau to Paris when the older artist returned to the capital in 1710. We know little about Pater’s first stay in Paris, but it is likely that he remained with Watteau from 1710 until about 1713. What is known, from one of Watteau’s earliest biographers, Edme-François Gersaint (1744), was that Pater did not have an easy time with his prickly master. ‘The young Pater found a teacher with too difficult a disposition, too impatient a character to be able to lend himself to the weakness and advancement of a pupil; he was obliged to leave him.’ Pater is recorded once again in Valenciennes in 1716, but is known to have returned to Paris two years later, where he worked for the dealers Sirois and Gersaint, producing fetes galantes in Watteau’s manner. In his last months, the dying Watteau sought reconciliation with his former pupil and invited him to Nogent-sur-Marne, where he resumed the twenty-six year old’s instruction. Watteau intended to ‘somehow repair the wrong he had done him by his previous neglect’, and hoped ‘that [Pater] might at least profit from such instruction as he might still be in a condition to give him.’ Pater later admitted to Gersaint that ‘he owed all he knew to that short period of time.’

Pater quickly filled the void left in the Parisian art market following Watteau’s early death in 1721. He painted original fetes galantes in Watteau’s manner, but is also known to have produced direct copies of Watteau’s most famous and popular compositions as well. A beautiful, small scale copy by Pater of Watteau’s masterpiece, Gersaint’s Shopsign (1720/21; Berlin, Charlottenburg Palace), today in a private collection (Ingersoll-Smouse, op.cit., no. 598, fig. 169) may have served as the model for Pierre Aveline’s engraving of the composition. (Indeed, it is possible that Pater helped to transform Watteau’s final painting from its original lunette shape into the regularized rectangular format in which we know it today.)

The inventory of Pater’s estate, drawn up immediately after his death in 1736, lists ‘Two little paintings painted on canvas…representing the Italian Comedians, copied from Watteau…’ and, more significantly, records Pater’s ‘copie du Balle de Vatteau[sic]’ made for M. Songis, controleur de la Marine, and priced at 250 livres. Furthermore, it was certainly not Pater’s only copy of Watteau’s Les Plaisirs du Bal, as several 18th-century sources – notably the catalogues of the Montulle sale (22 December 1783, lot 55) and Le Brun sale (11 April 1791, lot 197) – make reference to ‘deux ou trois imitations faites par Pater’ of the composition.

The present painting reproduces Watteau’s original Les Plaisirs du Bal (c. 1717; Dulwich Picture Gallery, London) almost exactly, and, along with another replica of the composition in The Wallace Collection, London, ranks as the finest of the half-dozen copies of the picture recorded as by, or attributed to, Pater. Several of the versions listed by Ingersoll-Smouse (op. cit., nos. 601-609) offer small variations from Watteau’s original; the present picture replicas it faithfully. That it is painted by Pater there can be no doubt: although it repeats Watteau’s painting to the smallest detail, it displays Pater’s distinctive touch, found in the tiny, pinched faces of his protagonists; his dense, solid application of paint; and his citric palette of lemon yellows, lime greens and carnation pinks. Although it translates Watteau’s delicate poetry into a more staid and earthbound prose, the present painting nevertheless conveys with vivacity and affection the curious mixture of costumes, the harmonious orchestration of a huge cast of individualized figures, the subtle array of social types, and the threads of a new and contemporary narrative that made Watteau’s masterpiece so intoxicating.

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