The picture, Pater's masterpiece, dates to the early 1730s, preceding a smaller 1733 version at Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam. The popular fair, held outside Paris each year on the first Sunday in September, inspired a stage play, a ballet-pantomime, and several works of art. Drawing from the imagery of Watteau’s fêtes galantes, Pater chose a bucolic landscape. People from all classes of society enjoy the festivities. The principal dancer may be Mademoiselle d'Angeville, a famous actress. Behind her is Pierrot, in white suit and ruff, and, on stage, a costumed monkey performs.
Pater, born in Valenciennes, was apprenticed to a local painter in 1706. A contemporary would later report that his father sent him to Paris to study with Jean Antoine Watteau (1684–1721): probably the two painters left Valenciennes together in late 1709 or 1710. After they separated, Pater was probably unable to make a living on his own, and returned to his native town. In 1716 he fell afoul of the local guild because, although he was not a member, he was working as an artist in Valenciennes and his father was selling his pictures. He decamped to Paris in 1718 for the rest of his life. Pater, like Watteau from a Flemish cultural milieu, lived an austere existence and died young. He too was received into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1728 as a painter of fêtes galantes, the genre invented for Watteau. Pater worked tirelessly and with facility, fearing failure, even though his patrons included Frederick II of Prussia (1712–1786).
The Fair at Bezons is one of Pater's largest, most important, and complex paintings. The composition, inspired by Watteau, comprises an open landscape in which numerous small figures eat and drink, play music and dance, and watch various forms of mostly comic entertainment, against a background of trees and idealized ruined buildings. The setting does not pretend to be a real place. (Bezons was a small village on the Seine to the northwest of Paris. The picture was first identified with this eighteenth-century country fair venue in 1793, some sixty years after it was painted). The principal dancer, who wears a yellow dress with a peach-colored overskirt tied up with blue ribbons, has been identified as the actress Marie Anne Botot d'Angeville (1714–1796), whose portrait by Pater is presumed lost but had been engraved in 1731.
[Katharine Baetjer 2010]
d'Espagnac and others (sale, Le Brun, Paris, May 22ff., 1793, no. 101, as "La foire de Bezons," for 3,001 livres to Desmarets); baron Alfred Charles de Rothschild, Paris (until d. 1918); Almina, Lady Carnarvon, London (from 1918; sold to Duveen); [Duveen, Paris, London, and New York, until 1925; sold for $175,000 to Bache]; Jules S. Bache, New York (1925–d. 1944; his estate, 1944–49; cats., 1929, unnumbered; 1937, no. 53; 1943, no. 52)
Paris. Petit Palais. "Le paysage français de Poussin à Corot," May–June 1925, no. P.245 (as "Une fête champêtre," lent by Sir Joseph Duveen).
New York. Museum of French Art, French Institute. "Special Dedication Exhibition of French Art," January 5, 1926, no. 9 (lent by Jules S. Bache).
London. 25 Park Lane. "Three French Reigns," February 21–April 5, 1933, no. 122 (lent by Jules S. Bache).
Copenhagen. Charlottenborg Palace. "Exposition de l'art français au XVIIIe siècle / Udstillingen af frankrigs kunst fra det XVIII. aarhundrede," August 25–October 6, 1935, no. 162 (lent by Jules S. Bache).
Paris. Palais National des Arts. "Chefs d'œuvre de l'art français," July–September 1937, no. 197 (lent by Jules S. Bache).
New York. World's Fair. "Masterpieces of Art: European & American Paintings, 1500–1900," May–October 1940, no. 215 (lent by the Bache Collection).
New York. Parke-Bernet. "French and English Art Treasures of the XVIII Century," December 20–30, 1942, no. 41 (lent by the Jules S. Bache Collection) [This exhibition was not held under the auspices of Parke-Bernet; the galleries were lent out.].
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Bache Collection," June 16–September 30, 1943, no. 52.
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "France in the Eighteenth Century," January 6–March 3, 1968.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. "Masterpieces of Painting in The Metropolitan Museum of Art," September 16–November 1, 1970, unnumbered cat. (p. 67).
Toledo Museum of Art. "The Age of Louis XV: French Painting 1710–1774," October 26–December 7, 1975, no. 79.
Art Institute of Chicago. "The Age of Louis XV: French Painting 1710–1774," January 10–February 22, 1976, no. 79.
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "The Age of Louis XV: French Painting 1710–1774," March 21–May 2, 1976, no. 79.
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting," June 6–September 7, 2003, no. 21.
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting," October 12, 2003–January 11, 2004, no. 21.
Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. "The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting," February 8–May 9, 2004, no. 21.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Valenciennes. "Watteau et la fête galante," March 5–June 14, 2004, no. 27.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Watteau, Music, and Theater," September 22–November 29, 2009, no. 22.
Arsène Alexandre. "La Renaissance." De Poussin à Corot 8 (January 1925), ill. p. 189.
Florence Ingersoll-Smouse. Pater. Paris, 1928, pp. 8, 12, 15–17, 42, no. 55, fig. 45, suggests that Pater was inspired by Dancourt's 1695 performance of the "Foire de Bezons," by Watteau's painting of this subject, and by the fair itself, on the banks of the Seine near Versailles; identifies this picture and the one in the 1793 Trelot sale as two separate works and mentions another example at Sanssouci, Potsdam.
Walter Heil. "The Jules Bache Collection." Art News 27 (April 27, 1929), pp. 4, 26, ill.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Collection of Jules S. Bache. New York, 1929, unpaginated, ill.
Esther Singleton. Old World Masters in New World Collections. New York, 1929, pp. 296–98, ill.
Max Osborn. Die Kunst des Rokoko. Berlin, 1929, pp. 177, 611, ill., erroneously as still in the Rothschild collection.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. under revision. New York, 1937, unpaginated, no. 53, ill.
Introduction by René Huyghe. Cent trente chefs-d'œuvre de l'art français du moyen age au XXe siècle. Paris, 1937, pl. 64.
Germain Bazin. "La rétrospective d'art français." L'Amour de l'art 18 (May 1937), p. 20, fig. 39.
Charles Sterling inChefs d'œuvre de l'art français. Exh. cat., Palais National des Arts. Paris, 1937, p. 99, no. 197, calls it a variant of the Sanssouci painting, but considers our picture more important; mentions "another version" in the sale of the Trelot [Tricot] collection.
Duveen Pictures in Public Collections of America. New York, 1941, unpaginated, no. 242, ill. (overall and detail), dates it 1733 and observes that several groups are introduced from Pater's earlier compositions such as his "Italian Comedians" (Frick Collection, New York).
Harry B. Wehle. "The Bache Collection on Loan." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1 (June 1943), p. 286.
A Catalogue of Paintings in the Bache Collection. rev. ed. New York, 1943, unpaginated, no. 52, ill.
Michel Florisoone. La peinture française: Le dix-huitième siècle. Paris, 1948, pl. 30, dates it about 1733.
Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 112–14, ill., comments that while the fair at Bezons inspired pictures by Watteau and his followers, these works were free interpretations; believes it was probably painted about 1733, the same year as the picture at Sanssouci.
Philip Conisbee. Painting in Eighteenth-Century France. Oxford, 1981, pp. 154–55, ill., describes it as "a gathering of various types and amorous encounters from Watteau's works, displaying more knowledge than understanding of his art".
Lincoln Kirstein. Four Centuries of Ballet: Fifty Masterworks. New York, 1984, pp. 98, 101, 263, no. 187, ill.
Alan Wintermute inClaude to Corot: The Development of Landscape Painting in France. Ed. Alan Wintermute. Exh. cat., Colnaghi. New York, 1990, p. 142.
Marianne Roland Michel inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 24, New York, 1996, p. 256.
Christoph Martin Vogtherr inThe Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting. Ed. Colin B. Bailey. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. New Haven, 2003, pp. 160–61, 358, no. 21, ill. (color), notes that most of those attending the fair are of the "urban or courtly type"; observes that people are dressed in a vaguely seventeenth-century fashion; finds the landscape of the Potsdam version more Italianate than its New York counterpart; suggests that our version is "somewhat later".
Alan Wintermute in Stephen D. Borys. The Splendor of Ruins in French Landscape Painting, 1630–1800. Exh. cat., Allen Memorial Art Museum. Oberlin, Ohio, 2005, pp. 24–25, ill.
Jérôme Delaplanche. Joseph Parrocel, 1646–1704: La nostalgie de l'héroïsme. Paris, 2006, p. 221, under no. P.100.
Frances Gage inFrench Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. Washington, 2009, p. 361.
A smaller and somewhat less elaborate version of this composition (Sanssouci Palace, Potsdam) is dated 1733. Technical examinations have revealed that there are some slight changes and adjustments made to the New York picture as work progressed, which would indicate that it is the earlier of the two.