Jean Antoine Watteau was born in Valenciennes, a small town on the Flemish border, in 1684. Watteau was first apprenticed to a local painter named Gérin, and then to the equally obscure Métayer. Métayer brought him to Paris in 1702 and abandoned him. Poor and obscure when he arrived in Paris, Watteau survived by painting trade copies of popular favourites. Watteau became a pupil and assistant to Claude Gillot. On Gillot's advice, Watteau sought another master, and was employed as assistant by Claude III Audran, a decorative designer and the curator of Luxembourg Palace. Under his tutelage Watteau produced original designs for decoration of rooms in both royal and private houses.
In 1709 Watteau entered for the Academy's Rome prize with a picture of David and Nabal (now lost). In 1712 he became an associate member (agréé) of the Academy. Very popular with private patrons, he received numerous commissions. When applying for membership in the Academy, he was allowed the unheard of privilege of selecting his own subject for the examination piece required for full membership. He became a full member of the Academy with his L'Embarquement pour l'Ile de Cythère. The painting was enrolled as "peintre de fêtes galantes".
In approximately 1712, Watteau accepted a commission from millionaire collector Pierre Crozat. Watteau moved into Crozat's home and there he had access to Crozat's dizzying collection of Old Master drawings. There he studied the works of Veronese, Giacomo Bassano and Campagnola and Parmigianino.
By 1719 Watteau was suffering severely from a lung condition, and he visited England to consult with Dr Mead. Unfortunately, the smoke of London aggravated his malady, but while he was there he painted The Italian Players and possibly La Toilette.
At this point, in increasing physical discomfort, Watteau returned to Paris at the end of 1720. It was then that he worked the miraculous Enseigne de Gersaint.
A personal friend lent him a house at Nogent-sur-Marne so that he might be more comfortable. Intending to rest there for a while before returning to Valenciennes, Watteau agreed. It was during this time (and possibly due to the influence of a local priest) that Watteau destroyed a number of pictures and drawings of nudes that he felt might give offence. At the same time he embarked on a painting of Christ on the Cross, which is now lost. Watteau died at Nogent on 18 July, 1721, at the age of thirty-seven.
contributed by Gifford, Katya