As Watteau's only true pupil, Pater built his career on the shoulders of his teacher, mastering the genre of the fête galante, and quite naturally stepping in to fill the void left in the market by Watteau's untimely death. He devoted himself almost entirely to painting fêtes galantes, military scenes and theatrical subjects in the manner of Watteau. His most original compositions are depictions of village fairs, such as The Fair at Bezons (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), erotic genre scenes illustrating the tales of La Fontaine, and a series of bathers.
The splendid pair of paintings The Bathers ('Baigneuses') and The Swing ('La Balancoire'), in the celebrated collection of Alfred de Rothschild in the 19th century, display the charms of Pater's art at its most seductive. The figural groupings of The Swing unfold along a gracefully serpentine line running across the canvas, scattered with poses and vignettes familiar from the paintings of Watteau: the undraped sculpture whose gaze seems to comment on the human activities taking place below her; the lover crowning his lady with a wreath of flowers; the young woman enjoying the unfettered pleasure of a ride on a swing. The Bathers, on the other hand, diverges more widely from Watteau's example: although Watteau painted a nude Diana at her Bath (Musée du Louvre, Paris), the frank nudity of his model was rendered acceptable under the guise of a mythological subject matter. Pater, however, while evoking depictions of Diana and her bathing nymphs familiar from Renaissance and Baroque art, dispensed with any historical conventions and set his composition in the present, offering a group of contemporary parisiennes enjoying an open-air bath at a garden fountain. Entering from the left, a mondaine couple appear to stumble innocently on this scene of feminine relaxation, like Actaeons in modern dress.
Although Ingersoll-Smouse records approximately 20 compositions by Pater that include women on swings, and more than 50 variations on the theme of the female bather, the present pair of paintings are exceptional in the refinement of their execution and their beautiful state of preservation. They amply display Pater's feathery brushwork and easy humor, but especially the palette of pearly pinks, silvery greys and acid blues that make his paintings unmistakable.