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L’Amour en Plein Air / An Elegant Company in the Open Air



Jean-Baptiste Pater (1695-1736)
L’Amour en Plein Air / An Elegant Company in the Open Air
oil on canvas
AGLC 434 @ A.G Leventis Gallery

One of the many problems with Jean-BaptistePater’s oeuvre is the status of the many versionsof his compositions. There seems little doubtthat he did himself make both exact and variantreplicas of his own works, but, with side-by-sidecomparison rarely possible, and with the variousversions often in differing states of conservation,it can be by no means easy either to identify theprime version or to say which of the copies or variantsare autograph. ?n the case of the present composition, it has alwaysbeen assumed that, being apparently signed, andwith a history going back to Frederick the Great, itis the picture in Schloss Sanssouci that is the primeautograph version.

 

The recent, very thorough technicaland art-historical research into the painters offêtes galantes in the palaces of Berlin-Brandenburghas not only pointed to what may be a superior versionof the composition, in Helsinki, but that theapparently authentic signature is on an extensionof the painted surface of the picture. It seems probablethat this carrying over of the painting onto theunpainted border was not the work of Pater himself,but a later intervention, after one of its manyreframings. That this is indeed the case is stronglysupported by the fact that, when it was first recorded,by Matthias Oesterreich, in his catalogue ofthe paintings in Sanssouci, Potsdam and Charlottenburg,in 1773, it was ascribed to Nicolas Lancret(1690-1743).

 

Florence Ingersoll-Smouse, in her ground-breakingbook on Pater, listed three other versions or variantsof the present picture and a copy of it. The first is thepicture in Sanssouci. A variant of this, which substitutesa man playing a flute and a young womansinging from a music book for the man forcing hisattentions on a woman, behind the central figureof the woman in white (thus removing the cause ofthe woman in a blue dress starting back in alarm), isthe picture at Kenwood House in London.

 

Another version was in Reginald Vaile’s collection and sale. Apicture cited by Ingersoll-Smouse as in the sale of theFreiherrn von Minnigerode-Alherberg in Berlin,9 as acopy of this, is now in the Art Institute of Chicago.This has the letters A. W. on the plinth of the sculpture,which, it has been suggested, are the initials ofPrince August Wilhelm of Prussia as the copyist.Christoph Martin Vogtherr added the autographversion in Helsinki and three copies to this list, butalso cited the present picture, as: ‘Jean-Baptiste Pater(?)…eigenhändige Version oder Kopie nach der versionin Helsinki’ [autograph version or copy of theversion in Helsinki].

 

It seems probable that he onlyknew this from a photograph or annotated cuttingfrom the catalogue of the 1964 sale (he does notmention the 1967 sale) in the Service de Documentationin the Louvre; if so, his caution is understandable.Even now, it is difficult to know exactlywhat to make of the picture. It is smaller than theSanssouci version, but roughly the same size as theone in Helsinki, whose background figures it repeats,rather than those of the Berlin picture. It is thereforein relation to that that it should be judged. When itand the illustration of the Helsinki picture in the Berlincatalogue are compared, the latter appears to bemore finished in every particular. This is especiallyapparent in the trees and foliage, but the faces of thefigures also seem slighter and more tentative. Thesewould be unusual changes for a copyist to make, butthey are compatible with the idea that this might bea first, and still sketchy, version of the composition.More work needs to be done on paintings ascribedto Pater, to see if there are others with the samecharacteristics that might demonstrate whether ornot he did sometimes make semi-sketched first versionsof his painted compositions.

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About the artist

A French Rococo painter and draughtsman, he was the son of a sculptor, Antoine Pater, and was briefly thestudent of Jean-Antoine Watteau, who influenced him considerably. His fêtes galantes imitated those ofWatteau, yet he developed his own distinct line. He was patronised by Frederick the Great.

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