Director's choice: Giles Waterfield, director of the Dulwich Picture Gallery

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The Independent Culture
WATTEAU'S Les Plaisirs du Bal (above, at Dulwich Picture Gallery) is a fascinating picture. Constable wrote of it in 1831: 'This painting seems as if painted in honey. So mellow, so tender, so soft, so delicious . . .'

Watteau painted in a bold technique and so many of his paintings are now semi-wrecks. But in ours you can still see the individual way in which he uses specks of colour.

His art has been read by successive generations in different ways. He went out of fashion in the early 19th century and by the 1850s was being re- interpreted as an artist who epitomises an elegiac mood of wistful longing for past happiness. In recent years his painting has been acknowledged in terms of early 18th-century attitudes to dance and sexuality.

Nobody is actually looking at each other here and there is a coquetry about it. On the other hand it is all about human sexuality and love. There is certainly a meaning in the dance.

Dulwich Picture Gallery, the first public national gallery, was opened in 1817. Despite the recent donation of pounds 200,000 from the Clore Foundation, its future is uncertain. An exhibition of 100 drawings from the collection opens on 16 June

(Photograph omitted)