Nicolas Lancret was one of Antoine Watteau's most talented followers and helped to disseminate the taste for fête-galante subjects in the eighteenth century. On the far left musicians are hidden amidst the trees, while across the canvas from left to right, arranged on an exaggerated S curve, stylishly dressed spectators have assembled in intimate groups to watch a couple perform a pas de deux. Lancret, like Watteau, was often inspired by the stage, and the female dancer depicted here is Marie-Anne de Cupis de Camargo, a ballet star of the Paris Opéra.
La Camargo is dressed in a white gown embroidered with flowers, suggesting a pastoral opera. She is gracefully poised and her partner's gestures subtly mirror her movements. Camargo, who was immensely talented, expanded the repertoire of eighteenth-century ballet with new steps that encouraged active footwork. To facilitate her movements, she shortened her skirts and may have been one of the first dancers to wear ballet slippers.
Lancret's weaving of figure and landscape into an intricate curvilinear design epitomizes the rococo style. The color scheme imbues the composition with a magical quality where the idea of nature and the fantasy of the theater are merged to create an idyllic setting for La Camargo's fashionable audience - who were also Lancret's patrons.
Friedrich II, King of Prussia [1712-1786], Potsdam; by descent in the Hohenzollern family to Kaiser Wilhelm II [1859-1941] Berlin; sold December 1927 through (Hugo Moser, Berlin) to (Duveen Brothers, Inc., London, New York, and Paris); purchased April 1928 by Andrew W. Mellon [1855-1937], Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.; deeded 1 May 1937 to The A.W. Mellon Educational and Charitable Trust, Pittsburgh; gift 1937 to NGA.
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