The Diary of Jean-Antoine Watteau

on Thursday, November 22, 2012
Jean-Antione Watteau was a real person - a 16th century French artist, who lived to be only thirty-six years old. This diary entry is fiction, written by yours truly, but all of the major details are historically accurate.
14 June 1721

I can no longer get out of my bed. The pains in my chest have become too strong, and I am becoming frail. This is not a sudden development; in fact, I hadn’t expected to last as long as I have. Each day I have been active less and less, many times at the disapproval of the Abbê. He wishes me to rest more, to conserve my strength. I know, however, from my lapses in health throughout my entire life, that it is no use. I know my body. I know my level of endurance. I knew, even before I became bedridden, before I consulted the Doctor, that it is unlikely I will recover from this period of ailment. Doctor Mead’s concoctions have done me little, if any good, and the damp, polluted air of London certainly did not help. I believe it is only a matter of time for me now. God has made his position clear. I see no point in praying.

Abbê Haranger has brought my paints and chalks into my room. I can do little from my bed, but they are comforting nonetheless. My room is plenty comfortable, but yet I still feel trapped. Throughout my life I have drawn inspiration everywhere, from people I would see on the streets, to the buildings I would pass, to the grasses and flowers in the countryside. I sketch out figures with chalk I have no plan of ever recreating with paint. I live and breathe through my observations and art - and now I am confined to a single room for what very well may be the rest of my life.

But my imagination will not be trapped with me. So many of the people and places I have painted have been fictitious. I do studies of real people, yes, but so often they are just practice, or inspiration. I would take a jawline here, and eye shape there...extracting and combining until I have a new person entirely. Of course, many of my works have not been created in this manner. Those of theatre troupes and poets and the like have been largely real. But my favorites have always been those I fabricated.

I can no longer use my paints, but I sketch intermittently throughout the day. I am forced to stop when my joints begin to ache and my arm grows tired. I spend the rest of my time reading, or writing in this diary, or simply daydreaming, fiddling with a paintbrush I shall likely never use again.

My sketches have decreased in their quality, partly due to the position I lay in while I draw them, and partially due to my declining health. I know there will come a time not to far in my future where I will cease to be able to draw. This is the one thing I dread most. Not death, or God’s judgement, or the pain I may be in as my health declines. I fear the day when my hands will cease to have the strength to drag my chalk across paper, when my ability to create something real and tangible and physical will fade into extinction.

The Abbê has chastised me for thinking this way. He pleads with me daily to be optimistic. Alas, this is not a request I can comply with. I am not a despondent person by nature. But I know my health, better than the Doctor in London, better than Abbê Haranger, better than the most skilled physician in all of the world. I know this bout of sickness will most definitely be the end of me. I just do not know how long it shall take. However, if I was pressed to give an estimate, I would say it would not be long. Around a month.

For a man of only thirty-six years of age I would say I have had a privileged life. I have gotten to spend my life doing what I love. Painting, and drawing, and attending the theatre. My patrons have treated me well, and I have had the chance to study under some exceedingly talented masters. Gillot, Audran, de la Fosse, Crozat, Jean de Jullienne, and now, of course Abbê Haranger. I say again, I have lead a privileged life.

And yes, the entire time my sickness has stalked me like a shadowy beast sent by the Reaper himself. It has always been there, since I was a babe. My parents never knew how long I would live. Of course, they are gone now. But that is no matter to me at this moment. I shall see them again soon, I hope, beyond the Lord’s Pearly Gates.

I am not sure if I will write again. It has become hard to hold my pen. Every joint, muscle, and tendon aches with the promise of a timely demise. If this be my last testament, I have some things I wish to say:

I would like to thank my patrons, my family, bless their souls, even that giant of a man I worked for when I first arrived in Paris, copying paintings that were not my own. For if it had not been for all of you, I would not have lived such a full life as I have.

I would like to thank the people of Paris, of France, of this entire world. Thank you to those who have born witness to my work, and to those that haven’t, whether you had enjoyed it or otherwise. Thank you to God, and to all of humanity, wherever you be, for accepting my gift to the world, even if you had naught to do with me or my artwork. The world will forget me soon enough, but thank you all for letting me contribute, how ever short-lived my work may be.

Thank you to Doctor Mead, for trying his best to heal my ailments, to the Abbê for taking care of me in what I believe to be my last days.

I bid thee farewell.

Yours, gratefully,

Jean-Antoine Watteau


Post a Comment