In 1720, Antoine Watteau, who had been of frail health since childhood, travelled to London to consult Dr Richard Mead, one of the most fashionable physicians of his time and an admirer of Watteau’s work. However, London’s damp and smoky air offset any benefits of Dr. Mead’s wholesome food and medicines. Early in 1721 Watteau returned to France and spent his last few months on the estate of his patron, Abbé Haranger, where he died in July probably from tuberculosis before he reached the age of 37. The Abbé said Watteau was semi-conscious and mute during his final days, clutching a paint brush and painting imaginary paintings in the air.
It was during these last months of his life that Rosalba Carriera, who stayed in Paris in 1720/21, made this pastel portrait, the only one that has survived, or perhaps the only one ever made. Of an earlier self-portrait, we have only a crayon copy by François Boucher.