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Jean-Baptiste Joseph Pater

French, 1695 - 1736

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Jean-Baptiste Joseph Pater, son of the sculptor Antoine Pater (1670-1747), was born in 1695 in Valenciennes, the hometown of his teacher Jean Antoine Watteau (1684-1721). He began his training under the little-known painter Jean Baptiste Guidé (d. 1711) in 1706, though he left this artist's studio before the end of the decade. Later, Pater apprenticed to Watteau, probably following his master back to Paris after the latter made a return trip to his hometown of Valenciennes. The length of this second apprenticeship is unknown, but Pater's biographers indicate that it was not long. Feeling Watteau to be too impatient and of too difficult a disposition to teach a young pupil, Pater set out to teach himself to paint. Back in Valenciennes in 1715-1716, the young artist, with his father, was involved in a business venture that led to a sequence of well-documented conflicts with the Corporation of Saint Luke. Pater's desire to work independently of this governing body may indicate that he had never intended to remain in his birthplace for long, and by 1718 he was again in Paris, working within Watteau's circle. In 1721 the repentant Watteau summoned Pater. Nearing the end of his life, Watteau recalled the talent of his former pupil and wished to offer him instruction again. In the last month of Watteau's life, Pater reportedly came to learn all he knew of the art of painting. In subject matter, he adhered closely to his master, submitting in 1728 his Soldiers Celebrating (Paris, Musée du Louvre) as his morceau de réception. While Watteau had captured the ennui of camp life in his paintings of soldiers, those by Pater differed little from his fêtes galantes. In his exquisite pendants Concert Champêtre and Les Délassements de la campagne (Valenciennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts), groups of figures, some in aristocratic dress, some in theatrical costume, mingle with members of the opposite sex, flirting and conversing.

According to his biographers, Pater's prodigious output was at once a result of avarice and of the artist's fear of becoming infirm and unable to paint. Yet his desire to solidify his financial position is hardly surprising in light of the fact that he received his formative artistic instruction only after his career was well underway. This fact also explains why many of his notable achievements were produced in the last decade of his short life. At the end of the 1720s, Pater began work on a series of fourteen scenes from Paul Scarron's Roman Comique (Potsdam, Nouveau Palais), which shortly thereafter were reproduced as engravings. In spite of contemporary criticism, which maintained that Pater sacrificed ordered compositions for mere technical facility, one of the artist's most complex and ambitious images--the Fair at Bezons of c. 1733 (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art)--is also one of his most successful. Most of his paintings were purchased by collectors and amateurs, including Friedrich II of Prussia (Frederick the Great), but in the last year of his life Pater received a royal commission from Louis XV to paint a Chinese Hunt (Amiens, Musée de Picardie) for the Petite Galerie in Versailles, which was decorated with eight additional exotic hunting scenes by the most accomplished of Pater's contemporaries. Pater became ill and died in 1736 at the early age of forty-one.

[Frances Gage, in French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue, Washington, D.C., 2009: 361.]

Artist Bibliography

Blanc, Charles. Les peintres des fêtes galantes: Watteau, Lancret, Pater, Boucher. Paris, 1854.
Ingersoll-Smouse, Florence. Pater. Paris, 1928.
Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2009: 361.

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