The Long Reach of Art - Perspectives from The Artist's Road

The Long Reach of Art

Perspectives from The Artist’s Road


Les Plaisirs du Bal, ca. 1715-17, Jean Antoine Wateau
Les Plaisirs du Bal     ca. 1715-17     Jean-Antoine Watteau

   Inspiration travels through time from art work to art work, often reinterpreted into the culture of a new time, perhaps for different purposes and sometimes even reworked into different mediums from the original.

   For example, the poetic paintings of French artist Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) depicted idyllic outdoor parties of the nobility called “fêtes galantes.” One of the most famous of these was his Les Plaisirs du Bal (shown above).

   The fête galante genre was coined by the French Academy in 1717 specifically to describe Watteau’s paintings “on the theme of the fête champêtre (garden or rustic party), which featured figures in ball dress or masquerade costumes disporting themselves amorously in parkland settings”. (Wikipedia)

   One hundred fifty-two years later, these sophisticated pastorals (particularly Watteau’s Les Plaisirs du Bal) are said to have been the inspiration, in turn, for French poet, Paul Verlaine. In 1869, Verlaine wrote a collection of poems entitled Fêtes Galantes which includes the poem Clair de Lune:

   Your soul is a chosen landscape

   Where charming masqueraders and revelers go,
Playing the lute, and dancing, and almost

   Sad beneath their fantastic disguises.

   All sing in a minor key

   Of victorious love and the opportune life,

   They do not seem to believe in their own happiness

   And their song mingles with the moonlight,

   With the still moonlight, sad and beautiful,

   Which sets the birds dreaming in the trees

   And the fountains sobbing in ecstasy,

   The tall slender fountains among marble statues.

   Twenty-one years later in 1890, inspired by Verlaine’s poetry, Claude Debussy began composing the piano work, Suite Bergamasque, with revisions up until its 1905 publication. From this suite emerged the third number, the slow movement, Claire de Lune, perhaps Debussy’s most famous and memorable work. One might argue that the serene and somewhat melancholy melody of Claire de Lune seems at odds with the depictions in Watteau’s festive Fêtes Galantes, however, the music’s pedigree is a clear link with Watteau’s inspiration through the poetry of Verlaine.

   Few today are familiar with Watteau’s garden party paintings, but Claire de Lune continues to inspire. Debussy so perfectly captured that particular feeling, that pensive mood, that it has surpassed the artistic aspirations of both Watteau and Verlaine and today, 306 years later, is alive in new art forms and mediums. It has become a popular mood piece and has been used in films such as Oceans 11, Everything, Everywhere All at Once and The Right Stuff among others. No doubt Debussy’s brilliant composition will continue to move artists for a long time to come—with a tip of the hat to Watteau, of course!

   From painting to poem to piano suite to contemporary movies—art is ever reborn.

Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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