Moreland is explaining the name of Casanova’s Chinese Restaurant: “There used to be the New Casanova . . . where the cooking was Italian and the decoration French eighteenth century —some way, some considerable way, after Watteau. Further up the street was . . .Sam’s Chinese Restaurant. The New Casanova went into liquidation. Sam’s bought it up . . . so now you can eat eight treasure rice . . . under panels depicting scenes from the career of the Great Lover.” [CCR 32/28]
Of course, the Great Lover whom Moreland mentions is Giacomo Casanova (1725-1798), the Venetian-born adventurer and womanizer whose name is now an eponym for an irresistible, if unreliable, lover. Casanova’s amorous schemes and intrigues brought him entree to the courts of aristocrats across Europe. His twelve-volume memoir in French is a prime first-person account of the mores of his time, at least among certain of the higher social strata.
The decorations at the New Casanova in the style of Watteau seem fitting, for though Casanova was born a Venetian, many of his exploits took place in the salons of patrician Paris. Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), though he died before Casanova was born, studied painting in Venice and returned to his native France to create an oeuvre that set the tone for virtually all of French painting for the rest of the 18th century. His work is generally thought of as Rococo, a lighter and more cheerfully decorative evolution of the more ponderous and writhing forms of the Baroque epoch that preceded it.
Watteau is credited with introducing a new subject in serious painting, dubbed the “fete gallante,” in which elegantly dressed young people disport themselves in beautiful sylvan settings. Actors, musicians, courtesans and young socialites populate his paintings, engaged in flirtations, assignations, reveries and mutual admiration. But Watteau’s attitude toward his subjects is rarely satirical, and often sympathetic and affectionate. He would have been the perfect documenter of the escapades of the irresistible Casanova, had they been contemporaries.
The painting by Watteau we present here is in the National Gallery in London and is entitled The Scale of Love. It may look like a scene from ”the career of the Great Lover” that Moreland had in mind, though it is doubtful the proprietors of the New Casanova employed a muralist as talented as Watteau, one of the greatest French painters and draughtsmen of the eighteenth century.