A Reclining Man, Seen from Behind

Jean-Baptiste PATER (Valenciennes, 1695 - Paris, 1736)

Biography

A native of Valenciennes, like Antoine Watteau, Jean-Baptiste-Joseph Pater spent a brief period as a youthful apprentice in Watteau’s studio in Paris. However, he apparently found the master’s temperament too difficult and eventually decided to return to Valenciennes. He was back in Paris in 1718, and there enjoyed a modestly successful career as a painter of fête galantes of the type made popular by Watteau, with elegant figures in gardens or pastoral settings. Pater was reconciled with Watteau in 1721, shortly before the elder artist’s death, and spent the last month of the master’s life working closely with him; a brief period which, the younger artist later claimed, taught him all that he knew. After Watteau’s death, Pater is thought to have been tasked with completing some of his unfinished paintings. He also inherited commissions from several of Watteau’s major patrons, notably Jean de Jullienne, Jean-Baptiste Glucq and Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. Continuing the tradition of the fête galante, Pater was agrée at the Académie Royale in 1725 and reçu as a peintre des sujets modernes three years later, in 1728, with a painting of Soldiers Merrymaking now in the Louvre; one of only three dated canvases by the artist. Although he painted a few portraits and several military scenes, most of his work was in the form of fêtes galantes; indeed, during his lifetime Pater was sometimes regarded as the equal of Watteau in this genre. He also painted numerous scenes of military encampments and marches, and was granted one Royal commission, in 1736, for a painting for Versailles. Like Watteau, Pater had only a brief career, and died the same year, at the age of forty-one. Eleven years younger than Watteau, Pater was his only documented pupil, and his familiarity with the master’s drawings is readily evident in his own draughtsmanship. Although his style is indebted to that of Watteau, unlike him Pater drew almost exclusively in red chalk, sometimes with added touches of white heightening. Perrin Stein has noted that ‘In contrast to Watteau’s differentiated textures and sensitivity to underlying form, Pater’s drawings cultivate the decorative potential of the chalk stroke, using a shorthand of short, jabbing marks and wiggly lines to exaggerate effects of vibration and shimmer. Like Watteau, he appears to have had little use for the compositional sketch. Pater’s surviving drawings are almost invariably red chalk studies of single figures – drawings that were apparently retained and reused, judging from the frequent recurrence of certain figures and poses in Pater’s painted oeuvre.’ As Margaret Morgan Grasselli has pointed out, however, ‘Like Watteau, Pater often made drawings with no particular composition in mind, but kept them for possible use in later works. Many of them appear not to have been used in his extant corpus of paintings.’