In this engraving several couples are gathered around a sculpture of Venus, while cupids fly around or push them closer together. To the right of the composition (which is reversed from the original painting) a boat surrounded by flying cupids can be seen, while couples gather on the shore, preparing to board.
‘Pilgrimage to Cythera’, which now hangs in the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin, was painted between 1718 and 1721 and is Watteau’s second variant of this theme; a more colourful and embellished version than his earlier 1717 painting ‘The Embarkation for the Island of Cythera’ (Louvre). ‘The Embarkation’ is viewed as a significant work because it was the first to be described as representing 'une fête galante'. The ‘fête galante’ came to be considered a new genre of painting and presented poignant representations of love within theatrical settings.
Although Watteau’s second version is compositionally similar to the 1717 work and includes some of the same figures, here the artist has produced a more literal interpretation of the subject, showing a journey about to commence. Cythera, one of the Greek islands, was said to be the birthplace of Venus and the painting can be seen as a celebration of love.
(Jean) Antoine Watteau was born in Valenciennes, northern France. He relocated to Paris in about 1702, where he became assistant to Claude Gillot. By this time he may already have contracted the tuberculosis, which would considerably impact on his life. By 1707/8 he had entered the studio of painter Claude Audran, Keeper of the Luxembourg Palace, who gave him access to Rubens’ ‘Life of Marie de Medici’. In Paris he studied the Venetian masters, particularly Veronese. Watteau was made an associate of the Academy and became the first member described as a painter of ‘fêtes galantes’. From 1719-20 he was in London, consulting physician Richard Mead on his illness. His final work was a shop sign titled ‘Enseigne de Gersaint’ (1720-21; Berlin).
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