(bapt. Valenciennes, 10 Oct. 1684; d Nogent-sur-Marne, nr. Paris, 18 July 1721). The greatest French painter of his period and one of the key figures of Rococo art. His home town of Valenciennes had passed to France from the Spanish Netherlands only six years before his birth, and he was regarded by contemporaries as a Flemish painter. There are indeed strong links with Flanders in his art, but it also has a sophistication that is quintessentially French. He moved to Paris in about 1702 and c.1704–8 he was a pupil and assistant of Gillot, who stimulated his interest in scenes from the theatre and daily life. After leaving Gillot he worked for a year or two for Claude Audran, who as well as being a leading decorative painter was curator of the Luxembourg Palace; Watteau thus had access there to Rubens's Marie de Médicis paintings, which were of enormous influence on him, even though Rubens's robustness was far removed from the exquisite sensitivity that characterized his own art.

Text source: The Oxford Dictionary of Art and Artists (Oxford University Press)

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