Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (French:5 April 1732 – 22 August 1806) was a French painter and printmaker whose late Rococo manner was distinguished by remarkable facility, exuberance, and hedonism. Among his most popular works are genre paintings conveying an atmosphere of intimacy and veiled eroticism.

Fragonard was the son of a haberdasher’s assistant. The family moved to Paris about 1738, and in 1747 the boy was apprenticed to a lawyer, who, noticing his appetite for drawing, suggested that he be taught painting. François Boucher was prevailed upon to accept him as a pupil (c. 1748), and in 1752, Fragonard’s elementary training completed, Boucher recommended that he compete for a Prix de Rome scholarship, which meant study under the court painter to Louis XV, Carle Van Loo, in Paris. On September 17, 1756, Fragonard set off with other scholarship winners for the French Academy at Rome.

While at Rome, Fragonard contracted a friendship with a fellow painter, Hubert Robert. In 1760, they toured Italy together, executing numerous sketches of local scenery. It was in these romantic gardens, with their fountains, grottos, temples and terraces, that Fragonard conceived the dreams which he was subsequently to render in his art. He also learned to admire the masters of the Dutch and Flemish schools (Rubens, Hals, Rembrandt, Ruisdael), imitating their loose and vigorous brushstrokes. Added to this influence was the deep impression made upon his mind by the florid sumptuousness of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, whose works he had an opportunity to study in Venice before he returned to Paris in 1761.

Hitherto Fragonard had hesitated between religious, classic and other subjects; but now the demand of the wealthy art patrons of Louis XV’s pleasure-loving and licentious court turned him definitely towards those scenes of love and voluptuousness with which his name will ever be associated, and which are only made acceptable by the tender beauty of his color and the virtuosity of his facile brushwork; such works include the Blind Man’s Bluff (Le collin maillard), Serment d’amour (Love Vow), Le Verrou (The Bolt), La Culbute (The Tumble), La Chemise enlevée (The Raised Chemise), and L’escarpolette (The Swing), and his decorations for the apartments of Mme du Barry and the dancer Madeleine Guimard.

He married Marie-Anne Gérard, herself a painter of miniatures, (1745–1823) on 17 June 1769 and had a daughter, Rosalie Fragonard (1769–1788), who became one of his favourite models. In October 1773, he again went to Italy with Pierre-Jacques Onézyme Bergeret de Grancourt and his son, Pierre-Jacques Bergeret de Grancourt. In September 1774, he returned through Vienna, Prague, Dresden, Frankfurt and Strasbourg.

He turned his interests toward a new type of subject matter: domestic scenes inspired by Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s moral philosophy or romantic novels (The Happy Family, c. 1775) or scenes concerned with children’s upbringing, in which his son Évariste (born 1780) frequently figures (The Schoolmistress [“Now Say Please”], c. 1780).

In the last years preceding the French Revolution, Fragonard turned finally to Neoclassical subject matter and developed a less fluent Neoclassical style of painting (The Fountain of Love, c. 1785), which becomes increasingly evident in his later works, particularly the genre scenes executed in collaboration with Marguerite Gérard (The Beloved Child, 1780–85).

The French Revolution deprived Fragonard of his private patrons: they were either guillotined or exiled. The neglected painter deemed it prudent to leave Paris in 1790 and found shelter in the house of his cousin Alexandre Maubert at Grasse, which he decorated with the series of decorative panels known as the Les progrès de l’amour dans le cœur d’une jeune fille, originally painted for Château du Barry.

At first he retired to Grasse, but he returned to Paris in 1791, where the protection of the leading Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David obtained for him a post with the Museum Commission, but he lost this position in 1797. He spent the rest of his life in obscurity, painting little. His death in 1806 passed almost unnoticed, and his work remained unfashionable until well after 1850.

Fragonard has been bracketed with Watteau as one of the two great poetic painters of the 18th century in France. A prodigiously active artist, he produced more than 550 paintings, several thousand drawings (although many hundreds are known to be lost), and 35 etchings. His style, based primarily on that of Rubens, was rapid, vigorous, and fluent, never tight or fussy like that of so many of his contemporaries.

A rediscovered painting, Philosopher Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard sold at auction for €7.7 million ($9.2 million) with buyer’s premium at the Enchères Champagne auction house on Saturday in Épernay, France. The result was more than three times its $2.4 million high estimate.

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