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See also: Rococo Art


Briefly a pupil of Chardin in 1750, Fragonard studied with Boucher until 1752, when he won the Prix de Rome. He visited Rome in 1756, where he studied the works of Venetian master Tiepolo. On his return to Paris, he made his name with a history painting in the "Grand Manner", High Priest Coroesus Sacrificing Himself to Save Callirhoe (1765). However, once accepted into the Academy, he gave up historical painting and turned to lighter Subjects, such as The Swing (c. 1766). Although such works often had erotic overtones, they managed to escape accusations of vulgarity through the artist's graceful and lighthearted handling of his subject matter. After his marriage in 1769, Fragonard also painted scenes of family groups.

He worked for the French Court of Louis XVI, particularly for his beautiful mistress Mme du Barry. After the Revolution of 1789 and the Terror that followed, Fragonard's patrons disappeared. During this period he fled to Grasse in southern France, returning to Paris in poverty. He was found a job by the Neo-Classical artist Jacques-Louis David but died in obscurity.

- From Essential History of Art

Before the Revolution, Fragonard followed Boucher. He came from the town of Grasse in southeastern France, which was and is the center of the French perfume industry. Fragonard was a rapid and spontaneous painter. He was as skilled as his teacher Boucher in sharing his pleasure in young women and their bodies, but more alert to their emotions.

Fragonard had a keen and endearing sense of human folly, especially when set in the expanses of the natural world. In his Blindman's Buff, a children's game is merrily being played by adults. Despite the light, bright and airy atmosphere there is a sense of foreboding in the painting. The gathering clouds that dominate half the canvas suggest to us, yet surely not explicitly to the painter, that the French Revolution was to come before his death. The revolution had very unfortunate consequences for Fragonard, as it ruined his patrons and deprived him of commissions. After 1793, despite previous success, he lived in obscurity for the rest of his life.

A Young Girl Reading is aglow with the softest of umbers, the rich color darkening and paling as it follows the girl's youthful contours. Her back is supported by a sort of maternal abundance of rosy pillow, but there is an almost horizontal element in the board under her arm except where her charming sleeve has overlapped its rigid outline. She is intent upon her book, as unprotected as any Boucher nymph.

The sweetness of A Young Girl Reading, its almost Renoirish charm, should not blind us to its strength and solidity. There is a geometrical framework to the softness of the adolescent reader: a strong, vertical swathe of yellow brown wall, and the gleaming horizontal bar of the armrest. It is this ability to transcend decoration that distinguishes Fragonard. Look at the girl's neck and bosom: delicious frills and ribbons, and the crinkling descent of the silks, yet there is the firm basis of a real, plump, human body. As in Blindman's Buff, the literal theme of this picture is held in an unstated context of solemnity. Like Boucher, Fragonard is more profound than he seems, and his genuine sensitivity is becoming increasingly apparent.

- From Sister Wendy Beckett, Sister Wendy's Story of Painting

Further reading on Fragonard:

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Fragonard images

c. 1770-72 The Reader
c. 1778 The Bolt (Le Verrou)
n.d. Fantastic Figure: Portrait of Abbe de Saint-Non

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