The Competition/Children's Scene: Contest or Instruction in Reading, Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Jean-Honoré Fragonard
The Competition/Children's Scene: Contest or Instruction in Reading
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Related external works


Jean-Honoré Fragonard: La Récompense, schwarze Kreide und Pinsel, grau laviert, Konturen durchgegriffelt, auf Büttenpapier, 429 x 342 mm. Inv. Nr. 1955.5, Pierpont Morgan Library & Museum, New York


Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Le concours, Pinsel in Braun (Chinatusche) auf Papier, 430 x 340 mm. Privatbesitz, Paris (Ananoff 1961.I.41.26)

Jean-Honoré Fragonard

The Competition/Children's Scene: Contest or Instruction in Reading, ca. 1780 – 1785

434 x 345 mm
Physical Description
Watercolour over black chalk, grey and brown washes, on ribbed laid paper
Inventory Number
Object Number
1233 Z
Acquired before 1862
Can be presented in the study room of the Graphische Sammlung (special opening hours)


About the Work

Fragonard describes the efforts and carefree mood of children competing in the merry company of an elegant circle of people. He may have encountered a scene such as this in Paris at the city palais of his patron, the Duc de Chabot. In addition to his other activities as a patron of the arts, the duke and his wife, Elisabeth Louise de la Rochefoucault, maintained a private drawing academy at the palais. Among the guests who frequented his home were artists like Fragonard and his friend Hubert Robert, who gave drawing lessons to wealthy dilettantes, and other contemporaries like the young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791). In a letter to his father, Leopold, dated 1 May 1778, Wolfgang writes of a performance at the Hôtel de la Rochefoucault and complains bitterly about the company, who continued to draw instead of listening attentively to the music.

The competition shown here by Fragonard seems similarly informal. In an imposing architectural setting, a lively group of children has gathered round a table in bright daylight to devote their attention with varying degrees of concentration to the task of reading and writing. Two extravagantly dressed ladies are assisting them while the youthful parents standing in the background follow the efforts of their offspring with great delight.

The brushwork on top of the drawing, executed in black chalk, demonstrates the artist's light and expert touch. Through the interplay between the grey and brown washes and the coating of watercolours, he has created a transparency with masterly skill that does justice to all the textures, from the stone pilasters to the shimmering red of the child's clothes.

The composition is carefully arranged down to the last detail, and Fragonard also drew a companion piece ('The Winner's Return', Pierpont Morgan Library, New York) to form a sequel to the scene. It is highly unlikely that he created these works on-site, but he will probably have drawn on experience in order to comment in his own way on the subject of education, which was of great interest during the Age of Enlightenment.

As a former student of François Boucher, Fragonard initially preferred black and red chalk before switching to the paintbrush in the 1770s. The collection at the Städel includes a significant group of works from the different creative phases of this exceptionally gifted graphic artist.

Work Data

Basic Information

The Competition/Children's Scene: Contest or Instruction in Reading
Period Produced
Object Type
Physical Description
Watercolour over black chalk, grey and brown washes, on ribbed laid paper
Geographic Reference
Production Reason
Captions Added Later
Verso bezeichnet unten mittig (mit der Feder): No. 52 Honoré Fragonard; rechts: Fragonard 304 / instruction d'enfants / fait chez le Duc de Chabost
Verso Stempel des Städelschen Kunstinstituts, Frankfurt am Main (Lugt 2356)
  • Nicht geprüft
Work Catalogues
  • Ananoff 1963.II.31.604

Property and Acquisition

Städel Museum, Frankfurt am Main
Picture Copyright
Public Domain
Acquired before 1862

Work Content

Motifs and References


  • 54EE33 Competition, Rivalry, Emulation; 'Emulatione' (Ripa)
  • 42B742 mother and child(ren), woman and child(ren) (family group)
  • 42B741 father and child(ren), man and child(ren) (family group)
  • 49N reading
  • 49L11 handwriting, writing as activity
  • 41A1 civic architecture; edifices; dwellings

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