The women he paints have a sparkling miniature solidity, the men an engaging quirkiness, a sharpness of knee, an intense turn of head which prompt admiration for Watteau's realism; yet these sharp little characters who, even in repose, seem always to be pouting, to be urging, to be inclining their tiny thoughtful heads, exist in a vacuum of apparent purposelessness. Their clothes, of satin slick as the oil into which Watteau translates them, are beautiful, flimsy, and bizarre; the context in which their languid activities take place is grandiose and vague, like a stage set. They look, in fact, like a group of professional actors, either warming up half-heartedly for a performance or enjoying a break in rehearsal, falling into a day-dream while a musician improvises softly on his guitar.
Anita Brookner, Watteau, 1967
(It isn't actually the earliest Brookner. That honour goes to the extraordinarily titled An Iconography of Cecil Rhodes, from the mid-50s, which I can only guess at.)
Watteau looks at first like a children's book. It was published in 1967 when Brookner was 39, fourteen years before A Start in Life. Mine is an ex-library copy. It is part of the Hamlyn 'Colour Library of Art', with '47 plates in full colour'.
But on every page, as the example above shows, there is the pure, the authentic Brooknerian sound.
|'Down-and-out aristos', as Brookner says somewhere:
L'Embarquement pour l'Ile de Cythere'