Historical Portraits Picture Archive

The Return from the Island of Cythera 1730c.

Petrus Johannes Van Reyschoot 

The Return from the Island of Cythera, Petrus Johannes Van Reyschoot
Oil on canvas
18th Century
71 x 87.5 cm 28 x 34 1/2 ins
Mr and Mrs Basil Ionides; Family descent to 2004
Cecil Gould ''The English Conversation Piece'' Country Life 1949 p.40 (ill.) Brian Allen Watteau and his imitators in mid-eighteenth century England in Moreau and Graselli eds. Antoine Watteau Paris and Geneva 1987.pp.259 – 267 (ill.)
Although Van Reyschoot received his training in his native Ghent, his conception of the Rococo in the present painting seems far closer to the world of St Martin’s Lane than that of Watteau. The present painting – in Allen’s opinion (op. cit. p.262) ‘one of the most fascinating’ in a previously unattributed body of Watteauesque fetes champetres – resembles the work of Philippe Mercier and even English painters such as Francis Hayman, but in its light touch and feathery handling compares most closely to paintings by Reyschoot, particularly the large pair of hunting conversations now in the Fine Arts Museum in Ghent.

A larger canvas of almost identical composition, although reversed, in a private collection gives the prelude to the events portrayed in this painting. The Embarkation for the Isle of Cythera, Cythera being the dwelling-place of the goddess Venus, shows the same company about to set sail in a fantastic barque, whereas this panting depicts their safe return. Fantastic elements which are suggested in the first painting are absent in its sequel, and the aura of the continental fete champetre give way to a realism that recalls the work of Hogarth. Like that painter’s subjects on the theme of Before and After the viewer is left to speculate upon the events that intervene, although the action of the two dogs in the repoussoir foreground leave little doubt at least as to some of the characters’ intentions. The painting is an interesting example of the taste, manifested especially by middle class patrons, for the new idiom of the rococo, in which elements of continental decorative painting could be appropriated for scenes not only, as is most common in the work of Watteau, of literary reference, particularly of the commedia del’arte, but also for contemporary social commentary, humour or mild erotica in Watteauesque disguise.
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