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Jean-Baptiste Pater (1695-1736)
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Jean-Baptiste Pater (1695-1736)

Conversation galante dans un parc

Jean-Baptiste Pater (Valenciennes 1695-1736 Paris)
Conversation galante dans un parc
signed 'Pater' (lower left)
oil on canvas
137/8 x 11¼ in. (35.2 x 28.5 cm.)
Baron Alphonse de Rothschild (1827-1905), Paris.
Baron Edouard de Rothschild (1868-1949), Paris.
Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild (1914-99), Tel Aviv.
Rothschild inventory no. ER 88 (the inventory no. R66, and possibly the label '1486/(R)16', on the reverse relates to the Nazi requisitions of 1940-1).
'Situation de la Collection au 5 Juillet 1903', a hand-written inventory, in the Rothschild Archive in London, of the Collection of Baron Alphonse de Rothschild at 2 rue Saint-Florentin, describes 'Personnages et Paysages - Pater' in the Grand Salon bleu, which probably refers to the paintings in this and the following lot.
F. Ingersoll-Smouse, Pater, Paris, 1928, nos. 32bis.
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Lot Essay

As is well known, Pater was Watteau's only true pupil. Like his master, Pater was a native of Valenciennes and he may have met Watteau when the latter returned there briefly in 1709-10. Pater's father urged the boy to follow his compatriot back to Paris and study with him. A brief apprenticeship with Watteau followed, but the two soon fell out and the pupil was dismissed. Pater returned to Valenciennes between 1715-18, when his efforts to practice independently of the local guild led to legal complications. Back in Paris by 1718, Pater worked for Watteau's dealers, Sirois and Gersaint, producing fêtes galantes in Watteau's manner. In his last months, Watteau sought reconciliation with his former pupil and invited him to Nogent-sur-Marne, where he resumed the 26-year-old painter's instruction. Pater later admitted to Gersaint that 'he owed all he knew to that short period of time'. Eager to fulfill the demand for fêtes galantes left by Watteau's early death, Pater devoted the remainder of his brief but successful career to producing genre paintings in Watteau's style for the Parisian market.

Admitted to the Académie Royale as an associate member in July 1725, Pater was commissioned to paint a military subject for his reception, which he submitted on New Year's Eve, 1728. His multifigural morceau de reception, Soldiers Celebrating (Paris, Louvre) includes with only slight variations the central couple that reappears in Conversation galante dans un parc; it is likely that the present painting evolved from studies that Pater made for his reception piece and that it dates from shortly afterward, circa 1729.

Although Watteau only occasionally replicated his compositions, Pater did so routinely. The present painting exists in at least two variant replicas: a canvas of almost identical dimensions (36.5 x 28 cm.) with the background figures reversed, that was once in the collection of Baron Maurice de Rothschild (present whereabouts unknown; Ingersoll-Smouse, op. cit., no. 32, fig. 23); and a larger canvas (46.5 x 39 cm.), in which the long-haired man in the skull cap is replaced by a young pilgrim with a staff festooned with flowers, which was acquired by the 4th Marquess of Hertford before 1871 (London, Wallace Collection; ibid., no. 31, fig. 24). Pater's composition is original, but its spirit and subject matter are profoundly indebted to Watteau, and several motifs are directly inspired by the older artist's paintings: the standing woman picking blossoms from a flowering vine derives from Watteau's Leçon d'Amour (Stockholm, Nationalmuseum) and the roughly embracing couple - who reappear in several of Pater's paintings - originate in Watteau's famous Le faux-pas (Paris, Louvre).

As in Watteau's fêtes galantes, the lovers in Conversation galante wear an imaginative mixture of contemporary clothing and fancy dress. As John Ingamells observed in discussing the Wallace Collection version of the painting (The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Pictures, III, French Before 1815, London, 1989, p. 301), the women are all in elegant street clothes while the men wear theatrical costume. Indeed, the general mood of Pater's lively picture evokes contemporary theatre, with its bright costumes and broad gestures, and the presence of the long-haired man who suggests the aged, comic doctors and priests of the Comédie Italienne.


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