Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Fête Galante" and Demeaning Terms

In my earliest art history classes, I remember learning that Watteau was associated with the "fête galante" genre from the Rococo period. The "fête galante" includes depictions of feasts or celebrations of gallantry, and it usually showed idle aristocrats in outdoor settings.

Today, Watteau is hailed as the master of the "fête galante." However, it appears that the term intially was used in a more demeaning sense. I just learned today that "fête galante" was first applied to Watteau's art by the Academy, so that Watteau would be separated "from the scholarly and morally serious narratives of the history genre."1 The Academy renamed Watteau's painting Pilgrimage to the Island of Cythera (shown above, 1717) to Un Feste Galante.2 I guess that Watteau's title and allusion to semi-mythic subject matter was troubling for the Academy; they didn't want this painting to be associated with the history/mythological paintings that were considered the "highest" form of art at the time. Therefore, "by admitting Watteau [to the exhibition], but not as a history painter, the Academy both welcomed and snubbed him."3

It's interesting to see that several demeaning or derogatory terms have been associated with art initially, and then the term ends up sticking to the art/artist in a positive way. The Fauvists received their name after an art critic compared the group's paintings to "fauves" or wild beasts. Likewise, the term "impressionists" was coined by the art critic Louis Leroy as a demeaning way to mock the art of Claude Monet (and others that exhibited in the Salon des Refuses in 1874).

Can you think of any other instances when a demeaning term has become a badge of honor for an artist or movement?

1 Emma Barker, Nick Webb, and Kim Woods, eds., The Changing Status of the Artist (London: Yale University Press, 1999), 229.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid., 232.