JEAN-ANTOINE WATTEAU was born at Valenciennes in Flanders, the son of a carpenter. Yielding to the boy's precocious talent for drawing, his father most unwillingly sent him, when fourteen, to study with an obscure local painter. To escape the importunities of his father, the boy fled to Paris where his eventual sufferings from hunger and cold laid the foundation of consumption from which, at the age of thirty-seven, he died. His drawings attracted the attention of Claude Gillot, a painter and engraver, who introduced to the young Watteau those subjects to which the pupil's own charm of imagination were to lend such lasting distinction.
Through his friendship with the great financier, Crozat, he was to enjoy for the remainder of his life that luxury to which his eyes were attuned. Wearied at last by the restraints and excitements of fashionable life, he left Crozat's friendly roof. His illness had by now so far advanced that he was beset by a depression of spirit which never left him. To seek the counsel of a noted London physician, he crossed the channel to England. He returned to France and died there.
Watteau was by nature both sensitive and wild, a product of the France of his day. He was the prototype of the school of distinguished court painters who came to record to the very moment of its tragic close an era of such reckless pleasure as no ruling class, pray God, will ever know again.