The Wallace Collection in London was a marvelous museum boasting many superb old master and impressive French 18th century paintings, plus decorative art and a world class armory. Comparing to the British Museum or the National Gallery, both huge institutions in London, it was much smaller but the reward was just as great.
There were so many paintings to like there and I name these two as my favorites there: 1) The Laughing Cavalier by the Dutch painter Frans Hals (1582-1666) and 2) Voulez-vous triompher des Belles? by French artist Antoine Watteau (probably 1684 - 1721).
The Laughing Cavalier, Frans Hals, The Netherlands, 1624, Oil on canvas, Image size 83 x 67.3 cm, Object size: 112.5 x 98 x 9 cm
This flamboyant portrait by Hals was remarkable for its candid depiction of a not wholly flattering character and the amazing ways the painter depicted the endless varieties of fabrics and laces this cavalier carried in his bulk. It was in-your-face direct and you could not avoid his presence. You could hear his roaring laughter, you could smell the tobacco in his finery, and the smell of beer in his breath. You could not avoid a minor confrontation from him, if after his assessing of you as a worthy adversary or someone he could trample upon without repercussion. His humorous mustache could not disguise his hot temper and his readiness to pounce. A cavalier through and through. A roguish and less-than-refined kind.
For refinement, one only need to move on to the paintings by the French Antoine Watteau, who ushered in the ornate, the less severe, more naturalistic, less formally classical Rococo style of paintings. He was also credited with inventing the genre of fêtes galantes: scenes of bucolic and idyllic charm, suffused with an air of theatricality.
His characters, always refined, always occupied an Arcadian landscape, otherworldly, elegant, including those actors and actresses in the costumes of Commedia dell'arte, whom, could be crude and crass if painted by other less quintessential French painter. Watteau's world was often misty and mythical. His characters, however real and naturalistically rendered, always occupied a world beyond our reach, and in our longing to join them, his works cast the spell over us and made us melancholic. Thus, Watteau's works made great complement and contrast to those by Hals.
Voulez-vous triompher des Belles?, Antoine Watteau, France, c. 1714-1717, Oil on oak panel, Image size 35.9 x 27 x 1.4 cm, Object size: 35.9 x 25.9 x 0.4 cm, preserved parts of the original panel
My Favorite Museum Collection Series
>> My Favorite Museum Collection Series 46: My Favorite Paintings in the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House, London
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