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Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Painter, etcher, commercial artist (male) and draughtsman

1732 in Grasse
1806 in Paris

9 Works by Jean-Honoré Fragonard


Despite its outwardly different course, Fragonard's biography is in many respects comparable to that of Watteau, and not only because in relation to their importance so few facts are known about their lives. But the privacy of their persons and their respective subject matter can be only indirectly explained from a historical context and seen to be in harmony with it. From it, for all their independence, and at the cost of increasing lack of public understanding for their work, it can be seen why they chose to be reclusive. The son of a Provençal merchant, Fragonard arrived in Paris as a child, and there, around 1748, after a first attempt with J. S. Chardin, became a pupil of F. Boucher. His successful candidature for the Prix de Rome in 1752 ('Jeroboam Offering Sacrifice to the Idol', école des Beaux-Arts), his further training at the école des Elèves protégés under the direction of Carle van Loo, his later admission into the Academy with 'Corésus and Callirhoé' (Louvre) are first indications of the ambitions of a history painter of a classical calibre. But more decisive was Fragonard's stay at the Académie de France in Rome from 1755 to 1761 under the directorship of Charles Natoire. There he was drawn not to the traditional models Raphael and Carracci, but to painters of the High and Late Baroque like Pietro da Cortona, Luca Giordano, and Francesco Solimiena, whose palette was characterised by fluid, virtuosic brush work. His encounter with Hubert Robert and in 1760 with the graphic artist and collector Abbé de Saint-Non, with whom he occupied the Villa d'Este in Tivoli for a time in order to draw from nature, gave Fragonard an important push towards landscape depiction, which would henceforth define his work with the greatest of achievements in painting and drawing. The return trip to France in 1761 in the company of Saint-Non, by way of Naples, Bologna, Venice and Genoa, provided Fragonard with additional impressions that stimulated his artistic development. Although Fragonard was admitted to the Academy in 1765 and exhibited at the Salon in that year and again in 1767, he abstained from all other activities relating to his expected career at the time. His behaviour points to a situation symptomatic of a changing taste of the time, a turning away from the style of Louis XV and toward classicism. It is confirmed during 1771-1773 by the fact that Fragonard's contract for the 'Amour des Bergers' series of paintings for Madame Dubarry's residence in Louveciennes (Frick Collection, New York) was revoked and paintings by J. M. Vien were commissioned instead. A work of comparable importance from this time is the 'Fête de Saint Cloud' for the duke of Penthièvre, 1775 (Banque de France). Fragonard's patrons were not official institutions, but rather wealthy, art-loving private citizens such as Bergeret de Grandcourt, with whom he journeyed to Italy once again in 1773-1774. Fragonard's motifs correspond to the circumstances described. They were characterised by wilfully chosen artistic traditions that combined such antitheses as Veronese and Rembrandt. On the other hand, it was Fragonard's unmistakable individuality that reinterpreted the classical themes. This was true of mythology as well as genre, of portraits as well as landscapes. His fascination with the painterly and draughtsmanly process as immediate artistic expression combined with a strong personality explains why Fragonard's painting and drawing, outwardly so seemingly carefree, would necessarily fade from the interest of the public in the period of the Revolution and a more didactic art of the Enlightenment, and instead lead in the direction of Romanticism. Fragonard's draughtsmanly oeuvre, which survives in abundance, is just as significant as his painting. After a first compilation of the available material by Ananoff, we are indebted to the recent publication by Eunice Williams for the best, methodically persuasive investigation. As a pupil of Boucher, the draughtsman Fragonard first worked almost exclusively with black and red crayon before demonstrating his extraordinary gift in the handling of the brush beginning in the 1770s. He was possibly stimulated in this by his contemporary J. B. Greuze, also surely the model of Rembrandt. In the realm of drawing, Fragonard proves to be independent of academic norms in that he negated the usual sequence of design, detail study and execution, and instead frequently proceeded from an oil sketch, and often only after the completed painting created sheets of a pictorial finish. His drawings, in which he dealt with almost all of the themes of his painting, were eagerly collected by Parisian connoisseurs and frequently hung on their walls like paintings. The path towards artistic autonomy in drawing, begun with Watteau, was taken to a new level.

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