1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fragonard, Jean-Honoré

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FRAGONARD, JEAN-HONORÉ (1732–1806), French painter, was born at Grasse, the son of a glover. He was articled to a Paris notary when his father’s circumstances became straitened through unsuccessful speculations, but he showed such talent and inclination for art that he was taken at the age of eighteen to Boucher, who, recognizing the youth’s rare gifts but disinclined to waste his time with one so inexperienced, sent him to Chardin’s atelier. Fragonard studied for six months under the great luminist, and then returned more fully equipped to Boucher, whose style he soon acquired so completely that the master entrusted him with the execution of replicas of his paintings. Though not a pupil of the Academy, Fragonard gained the Prix de Rome in 1752 with a painting of “Jeroboam sacrificing to the Idols,” but before proceeding to Rome he continued to study for three years under Van Loo. In the year preceding his departure he painted the “Christ washing the Feet of the Apostles” now at Grasse cathedral. In 1755 he took up his abode at the French Academy in Rome, then presided over by Natoire. There he benefited from the study of the old masters whom he was set to copy—always remembering Boucher’s parting advice not to take Raphael and Michelangelo too seriously. He successively passed through the studios of masters as widely different in their aims and technique as Chardin, Boucher, Van Loo and Natoire, and a summer sojourn at the Villa d’Este in the company of the abbé de Saint-Non, who engraved many of Fragonard’s studies of these entrancing gardens, did more towards forming his personal style than all the training at the various schools. It was in these romantic gardens, with their fountains, grottos, temples and terraces, that he conceived the dreams which he was subsequently to embody in his art. Added to this influence was the deep impression made upon his mind by the florid sumptuousness of Tiepolo, whose works he had an opportunity of studying in Venice before he returned to Paris in 1761. In 1765 his “Corésus et Callirhoé” secured his admission to the Academy. It was made the subject of a pompous eulogy by Diderot, and was bought by the king, who had it reproduced at the Gobelins factory. 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 colour and the virtuosity of his facile brushwork—such works as the “Serment d’amour” (Love Vow), “Le Verrou” (The Bolt), “La Culbute” (The Tumble), “La Chemise enlevée” (The Shift Withdrawn), and “The Swing” (Wallace collection), and his decorations for the apartments of Mme du Barry and the dancer Marie Guimard.

The Revolution made an end to the ancien régime, and Fragonard, who was so closely allied to its representatives, left Paris in 1793 and found shelter in the house of his friend Maubert at Grasse, which he decorated with the series of decorative panels known as the “Roman d’amour de la jeunesse,” originally painted for Mme du Barry’s pavilion at Louvreciennes. The panels in recent years came into the possession of Mr Pierpont Morgan. Fragonard returned to Paris early in the 19th century, where he died in 1806, neglected and almost forgotten. For half a century or more he was so completely ignored that Lübke, in his history of art (1873), omits the very mention of his name. But within the last thirty years he has regained the position among the masters of painting to which he is entitled by his genius. If the appreciation of his art by the modern collector can be expressed in figures, it is significant that the small and sketchy “Billet Doux,” which appeared at the Cronier sale in Paris in 1905 and was subsequently exhibited by Messrs Duveen in London (1906), realized close on £19,000 at the Hôtel Drouot.

Besides the works already mentioned, there are four important pictures by Fragonard in the Wallace collection: “The Fountain of Love,” “The Schoolmistress,” “A Lady carving her Name on a Tree” (usually known as “Le Chiffre d’amour”) and “The Fair-haired Child.” The Louvre contains thirteen examples of his art, among them the “Corésus,” “The Sleeping Bacchante,” “The Shift Withdrawn,” “The Bathers,” “The Shepherd’s Hour” (“L’Heure du berger”), and “Inspiration.” Other works are in the museums of Lille, Besançon, Rouen, Tours, Nantes, Avignon, Amiens, Grenoble, Nancy, Orleans, Marseilles, &c., as well as at Chantilly. Some of Fragonard’s finest work is in the private collections of the Rothschild family in London and Paris.

See R. Portalis, Fragonard (Paris, 1899), fully illustrated; Felix Naquet, Fragonard (Paris, 1890); Virgile Josz, Fragonard—mœurs du XVIII e siècle (Paris, 1901); E. and J. de Goncourt, L’Art du dix-huitième siècle—Fragonard (Paris, 1883).  (P. G. K.)