“The dawn is not distant, nor is the night starless; love is eternal.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (born 1732 Grasse, France, died 1806 Paris) was a French draughtsman and painter. Born in the small city of Grasse, Jean-Honoré Fragonard moved to Paris with his family in 1738. While still in his teens, he became apprenticed to Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin for just six months and then worked in François Boucher’s studio. He won the Prix de Rome in 1752, then spent three preparatory years under Carle Vanloo before studying at the Académie de France in Rome from 1756 to 1761.
Fragonard also drew landscapes with Hubert Robert and traveled to southern Italy and Venice. Fragonard’s submission to the Salon of 1765 earned him associate academy membership, yet he opted out of an official career of history painting. Preferring to make lighthearted, erotic pictures for private clients, he only exhibited at the Salon twice.
He married Marie-Anne Gerard, herself a painter of miniatures in 1769 and they had a daughter, Rosalie, who became one of his favourite models, until her death at about aged 19. Later he had a son who also became an artist. His portraits made him the admired favourite of modern Impressionists, and it is interesting that the impressionist painter Berthe Morisot was either his grand-daughter or great-niece (depending on which historian you read).
Life and paint seen through his lightning brush were delicious; his cheerful canvases reinvigorated the Rococo style. He painted mythology, gallantry, landscape, and portraiture and drew voraciously in wide-ranging media, often signing his works “Frago”. The French Revolution ended Fragonard's career and made him a pauper. Admiring his work, the Neoclassical painter Jacques-Louis David attempted to assist by making him curator of the future Musée du Louvre. Unable to adapt to the new style of painting, however, Fragonard died forgotten in Napoleon’s France. For half a century or more he was largely forgotten, but collectors and critics discovered him again in the early 1900s.
The paintings of Watteau and Fragonard, more than any others, represent the sparkling frou-frou of the Rococo. Looking at an exhibit of Fragonard, one would come away with a colourful collection of frivolity, of hoop-skirts, silken trimmings and short petticoats, swings revealing interesting grey stockings, rosy cheeks and shoulders, of cupid’s kisses and love-play. The Advisory chose Fragonard’s works with care, because most of his subjects are not suitable for children. We would not call him a moral artist, but he is among the masters, and all of his paintings show sparkling verve, spirit and dash. It is astonishing with what fine feeling he arranges his colours and by what simple means he expresses life and movement. He generally used water-colours, not oil, and never painted upon a large scale, and this contributes to the air of fantasy, if not the fantastic, of most of his works.
The painting above is “The Goddess Aurora Triumphing Over Night” (oil on 95.2 by 131.5 cm). This was sold to a private buyer by Sotheby’s last year for $3,834,500 USD (Hammer Price with Buyer’s Premium). This early painting clearly demonstrates that Fragonard had fully absorbed the lessons both of his early masters, François Boucher and Carle van Loo, and was beginning to create his own interpretation of the Rococo style. The pendant of this painting, Diana and Endymion, is now at the National Gallery of Art, Washington. The two paintings, both grand in scale and composition, make a perfect pendant pair; they were originally on shaped canvases for placement within a boiserie surrounding. The compositions are flawlessly balanced, with symmetrically positioned sleeping figures arranged across the bottom of each canvas underneath corresponding female deities positioned above.