Jean-Antoine Watteau (1718-19)

A commeddia dellarte actor stands before us, his distracted colleagues half offstage behind him only adding to the focus heaped onto him. By painting him full length and face on, the artist accentuates his vulnerability, and makes his inertia all the more painful. Contrast the theatrical finery, beautifully painted textures of softly gleaming satin, with his facial and physical expression: bloated with longing and melancholy, part of his face receding into darkness, his hands drooping in resignation or even devastation. Similarly, were asked to consider the contrast between the naivety of his acting role and the unknowable heartbreak of his real life. Watteaus haunting figure comes to us across the centuries, and asks us something eternal: what happens when reality prevents us doing what were meant to do, being who we are supposed to be?