A Fête Champêtre During the Grape Harvest
Jean-Baptiste Pater ( French, 1695 - 1736 )
- c. 1730–1733
Jean-Baptiste Pater’s “A Fête Champêtre During the Grape Harvest” places us in the midst of what seems to be a quintessentially eighteenth-century vision of carefree outdoor existence. A group of young men, women, and several children have assembled in the foreground of a wide, rural landscape. A sculpture of two putti and a fountain in a trellis pavilion on the left and a sculpted male term on the right frame the composition, creating a garden-like setting. An agricultural environment is evoked by a group of peasants harvesting grapes in the middle ground and by a kneeling woman on the far left offering fruit that has just been picked. The background landscape evokes Arcadian ideals—an open-air bliss, as perceived by an urban elite which had always kept a safe distance from agricultural labor, but felt attracted to a seemingly natural, stress-free environment and the exotic quality of manual work. The sculptures help us to understand that we are in an environment half-imagined and half-observed, a landscape that is embellished by peaceful traces of human habitation, but pretends to be natural. Dress is an important signifier in this painting. It clearly demarcates the differences between the leisured class on the one side, and servants and peas¬ants on the other. Manual labor is strictly confined to the more simply dressed peasants. The fashionable young people in the foreground enjoy the leisure of conversation, of flirting, or of simply doing nothing— sociability without practical purpose. In this painting, Pater follows the template of Watteau’s compositions he saw during his first stay with the older artist—the strong diagonal void in the cen¬ter, for example, is a recurrent feature in Watteau’s earlier fêtes galantes and in most of Pater’s works throughout his career. But compared to the scenes produced at the height of Watteau’s career, the colors have brightened and the figures have gained movement and three-dimensionality. Another difference between the two artists is their depiction of stories—something Watteau deliberately avoided. We could almost say that Watteau sealed his images off from any clear narrative, while Pater purposefully explored narrative possibilities. Adapted from Christoph Martin Vogtherr, "Moving on from Watteau: Jean-Baptiste Pater and the Transformation of the Fête Galante," in “French Art of the Eighteenth Century: The Michael L. Rosenberg Lecture Series at the Dallas Museum of Art,” ed. Heather MacDonald (Dallas, TX: Dallas Museum of Art and the Michael L. Rosenberg Foundation, 2016), 81–94.