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Watteau at Work: La Surprise

Emily A. Beeny, Davide Gasparotto, and Richard Rand

Marking the three hundredth anniversary of Jean Antoine Watteau’s death, this publication takes a close, revealing look at his recently rediscovered painting La Surprise.

The painting La Surprise by Jean Antoine Watteau (1684–1721) belongs to a new genre of painting invented by the artist himself—the fête galante. These works, which show graceful open-air gatherings filled with scenes of courtship, music and dance, strolling lovers, and actors, do not so much tell a story as set a mood: one of playful, wistful, nostalgic reverie. Esteemed by collectors in Watteau’s day as a work that showed the artist at the height of his skill and success, La Surprise vanished from public view in 1848, not to reemerge for more than a century and a half. Acquired by the Getty Museum in 2017, it has never before been the subject of a dedicated publication. Marking the three hundredth anniversary of Watteau’s death, this book considers La Surprise within the context of the artist’s oeuvre and discusses the surprising history of collecting Watteau in Los Angeles.

This volume is published to accompany an exhibition on view at the J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center from November 23, 2021, to February 20, 2022.

Emily A. Beeny, former associate curator of drawings at the J. Paul Getty Museum, is curator in charge of European paintings at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Davide Gasparotto is senior curator of paintings and chair, curatorial affairs, at the J. Paul Getty Museum. Richard Rand is associate director for collections at the J. Paul Getty Museum.

“Like the work of art it so beautifully evokes, Watteau at Workappears slight but its thought-provoking observations carry the reader into realms of surprising profundity.”
—Yuriko Jackall, French Studies

“The next best thing to being able to personally visit the exhibit.”
Midwest Book Review

88 pages
7 1/4 x 8 5/8 inches
34 color illustrations
ISBN 978-1-60606-735-2

Getty Publications
Imprint: J. Paul Getty Museum