gersaint’s shop sign
By itself, Watteau’s Gilles reveals how far Watteau had cut his style off from the rococo decorators. He continued in pursuit not so much of natural appearances as of human nature. Of course, he understood that the two can go together; and he was to bring them together in one final, supreme, and large-scale treatment, self-commissioned: L’Enseigne de Gersaint.
Because quite early (around 1744) it left France for Frederick the Great’s collection at Berlin, the picture was not there to help Diderot, for instance, to comprehend Watteau’s art. But it may well have influenced the young Chardin, very different though it is from anything he produced. It is a key document, as well as a masterpiece, in which almost every eighteenth-century artistic interest is contained – except the moral one. It is decoration, and trompe-l’oeil decoration, intended for the front of Gersaint’s shop – probably for that reason composed, as well as cut, in two halves; not only does it give the illusion of dissolving the shop wall, so that one steps directly in from the street, but the illusion is itself witty: expanding the poky reality of a shop on the Pont Notre-Dame to this grandiose room, with its glimpse of a tall-windowed salon beyond, papered with pictures that Gersaint probably never owned. Thus, though it is genre, it is enchanted genre, animated not only by wit but by a ubiquitous eroticism no longer conveyed through the presence of cupids. It is the paint itself which communicates an almost feverish excitement, a hectic vitality, to the society assembled here in autumn colours, chrysanthemum tones of bronze and yellow and pink, set off by black and silver-grey.
Commonly, the painting is interpreted as a commentary on the shift in aristocratic culture – or relief – that occurred during the government of the more licentious Régent Philippe II, Duke of Orléans (1715–1723), after the death of Louis XIV and before the accession to the throne of Louis XV. The boxing of Pierre Mignard’s portrait of the deceased king implies the end of the old régime.
The artworks in the painting are set alongside the actions of high-society criticism. The young man offering his hand to the woman in pink is set against a series of female nudes, while puritanical figures in portraits at the left seem to look down disapprovingly. At the right, there are numerous images of orgies and naked figures, implying that art expresses the hidden lustful feelings of the genteel figures in the shop, who merely gaze at one another or engage in polite gestures of intimacy.
Artist Jean-Antoine Watteau created �Gersaint�s Shop Sign, or as it is known in its original French language �L�Enseigne De Gersaint�, in 1720, the year before his death. It was to be his final painting. This oil on canvas creation represents a captured moment of joy and celebration as the figures discover new treasures to bring home. A man offers his hand to a woman to welcome her into the shop, while the clerks happily ring up the sales. Jean Antoine Watteau�s skilful brushstrokes clearly define the delicate white lace and silk materials of the dresses, as well as the textured linens worn by the man pulling out the portrait of Louis XIV.
Gersaint�s Shop Sign (L�enseigne de Gersaint)