Watteau = Not Exactly Flemish

I’m still thinking about Watteau this week. On the left is a portrait of Watteau by Rosalba Carriera (1721).

Just in case you’re wondering, it’s not completely accurate to say that Watteau was a Flemish artist. Okay, I know what you’re thinking: “Of course he’s not Flemish – he was a French Rococo artist!” You’re right. But I bet I’m not the only person who once learned that Watteau was Flemish. To clarify: Watteau was born in the town of Valenciennes, which originally was a Flemish town. However, the French took over the town about seven years before Watteau was born.1
Does this change my belief that Watteau was influenced by the Flemish master Rubens? Of course not! There’s no doubt that Watteau was interested in the Flemish masters, and I’m quite sure that Valenciennes maintained many Flemish customs and traditions, even after the French gained control.
I guess it’s possible that Watteau considered himself to be Flemish, since his father was of Flemish descent. Watteau’s interest in Flemish art suggests that the artist was interested in his heritage, to say the least. But if one wants to get technical, I think it would be most correct to say that Watteau had Flemish ancestry, but he was born on newly-acquired French soil.
In my mind, that means Watteau was French.
1 Emma Barker, Nick Webb, and Kim Woods, eds., The Changing Status of the Artist (London: Yale University Press, 1999), 233.
  • heidenkind says:

    I've never heard this story about Watteau being Flemish-ish. Great post, M!

  • Nicjor79 says:

    So Watteau MIGHT not have really been French? I always wondered why I liked him.

  • M says:

    I discovered what source has been promulgating the "Watteau was Flemish" angle: Fred S. Kleiner and Christin J. Mamiya, Gardener's Art Through the Ages vol. 12 (2005), 800.

    It's unusual for me to disagree with such a canonical text, but I really don't think it's correct to say "Watteau was Flemish" (although I see that the text is trying to solidify Watteau's position as a Rubeniste).

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This blog focuses on making Western art history accessible and interesting to all types of audiences: art historians, students, and anyone else who is curious about art. Alberti’s Window is maintained by Monica Bowen, an art historian and professor.