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Eastman Johnson
Negro Life at the South (detail)
New-York Historical Society
"American Stories"
Metropolitan Museum of Art
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by Michèle C. Cone

For Jean-Antoine Watteau, the French 18th-century painter of fètes galantes, opera ballets and commedia dell’arte, music was the melodious accompaniment of courtship and a ready ingredient in sexual conquest. The guitar was the instrument of choice, and its guttural sensuality would seem to have had an irresistible effect on the serenaded couples. To wit, the musician surveying his music’s effect on an nearby amorouscouple in Watteau’s famous La Surprise (ca. 1718), currently on view in "Watteau, Music, and Theater" at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Sept. 21-Nov. 29, 2009.