Jean-Honoré Nicolas Fragonard (born April 5, 1732 in Grasse and died on August 22, 1806 in Paris), is one of the main French classical painter and printmaker of the eighteenth century. A painter of history, genre and landscapes, he specialized fairly quickly in the libertine genre and gallant scenes, as his famous painting Le Verrou shows.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard was a late Rococo manner painter whom distinguished by remarkable facility, exuberance, and hedonism. One of the most prolific artists active in the last decades of the Ancien Régime, Fragonard produced more than 550 paintings, of which only five are dated. Among his most popular works are genre paintings conveying an atmosphere of intimacy and veiled eroticism.
One of Fragonard’s most renowned paintings is The Swing, also known as The Happy Accidents of the Swing, an oil painting in the Wallace Collection in London. It is considered to be one of the masterpieces of the rococo era, and is Fragonard’s best known work. The painting portrays a young gentleman concealed in the bushes, observing a lady on swing being pushed by her spouse, who is standing in the background, hidden in the shadows, as he is unaware of the affair. As the lady swings forward, the young man gets a glimpse under her dress.
For half a century or more he was so completely ignored that Wilhelm Lübke’s 1873 art history volume omits the very mention of his name. Subsequent reevaluation has confirmed his position among the all-time masters of French painting. The influence of Fragonard’s handling of local colour and expressive, confident brushstroke on the Impressionists (particularly his grand niece, Berthe Morisot, and Renoir) cannot be overestimated. Fragonard’s paintings, alongside those of François Boucher, seem to sum up an era.
Jean-Honoré is the son of Francois Fragonard, boy glover, and Françoise Petit. After the death, at ten months, of his little brother Joseph, he remains single child. He left his hometown at the age of six to settle with his family in Paris, where most of his career took place.
Fragonard’s artistic arrangements were early and he was a notary with whom he became a clerk at the age of thirteen who noticed his artistic gifts. After some time with Jean Siméon Chardin, he entered the studio of François Boucher at the age of fourteen. It is thanks to him that the young Fragonard affirms his gifts and learns to copy the masters. Boucher soon introduced him to the prestigious Grand Prix de Peinture of the Royal Academy which he won in 1752 thanks to his painting Jeroboam sacrificing to idols. A career in history painting seemed to him to be all traced. He entered for three years at the Royal School of Protected Students, then directed by the painter Carle Van Loo. Fragonard made his Grand Tour and left in 1756 for the Académie de France in Rome with his friend Hubert Robert (another painter who won the Prix de Rome) and the architect Victor Louis. He lived there until April 1761 and was influenced by the painter Giambattista Tiepolo and the Baroque style of Peter of Cortona, but he was exhausted by the use of the great masters in an academic style. Jean-Claude Richard of Saint-Non became, at that time, his protector and principal sponsor. He then left the Eternal City for France during a long journey completed in September through the cities of Florence, Bologna and Venice in particular.
He obtains a workshop in the Louvre where he lives and is in charge of decorating the Apollon gallery. In 1765, his painting Corus and Calirhoé, commissioned for the Gobelins manufacture for the hanging of the loves of the gods, brought him into the Academy. But, despairing of reaching the first rank in this classical genre, he leaves it for the erotic genre, in which his gallant canvases obtain the greatest success with the Licentious Court of Louis XV. He soon became the fashionable painter, painted illusionist landscapes and portraits, then paintings of cabinets. In 1769, he married Marie-Anne Gérard (1745-1823), a miniature painter also from Grasse, sister-in-law of Marguerite Gérard. That same year their first daughter Rosalie (1769-1788) was born.
In 1773, after a trip to Flanders in the summer, Farmer General Pierre-Jacques-Onésyme Bergeret de Grandcourt offered to be his guide for a trip to Italy and then to Central Europe, which would begin in October. Bergeret de Grandcourt was Count of Negrepelisse, and the itinerary of the journey on the way passes through this locality, where the little band of travelers stays for a fortnight. Fragonard drew there the castle, property of Bergeret. The journey ended in September 1774 after the successive visits to Vienna, Prague, Dresden, Frankfurt and finally Strasbourg.
In 1780, the Fragonard couple gave birth to a new child Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard (1780-1850), who also became an artist. Eight years later, at just 19 years old, their daughter Rosalie died at the Château de Cassan in the Paris region. During the Revolution, he stayed in Grasse (1790-91) with his cousin Alexandre Maubert (this bastide became the villa-museum Jean-Honoré Fragonard in 1977). Fragonard became a member of the Commune des Arts in 1793. Subsequently, Fragonard was named one of the conservators of the Louvre by the National Assembly following the intervention of Jacques-Louis David.
In 1805, all the resident artists, including Fragonard, were expelled from the Louvre by imperial decree, following the reorganization of the building into a Napoleon museum. The disappearance of the sponsoring aristocracy (ruined or exiled) makes him lose his great fortune. He then moved to his friend Veri’s house at the Palais Royal. The following year he died, seemingly overcome by cerebral congestion in his new dwelling in the galleries of the Palais Royal, in the almost total indifference of his contemporaries. Funerals are celebrated at Saint-Roch Church. He was buried in the old cemetery of Montmartre, where his replaced tomb disappeared towards the middle of the nineteenth century. A marble cenotaph was placed on the wall where his grave (19th division) was located.
Like François Boucher, Fragonard is considered the painter of frivolity and rococo, although he has painted in many other registers: large landscapes inspired by Dutch painters, religious or mythological paintings, or scene of family happiness especially.
In a virtuous line, Fragonard knew how to show the whirlwind of the world by expressive and graceful gestures or drapery full of vigor. Fragonard was the last painter of a declining epoch; his genre scenes were soon rendered obsolete by the neoclassical hardness of David, by the cruelty of the Revolution and that of the Empire.
Fragonard’s genre scenes are readily erudite, such as The Happy Chastisements of the Escarpolette, the fantasy of a libidinous sponsor (M. de Saint-Julien, receiver-general of the clergy’s property) who gave the artist advice On the stage: “I would like you to paint Madame on a steeple which a bishop would set in motion. You will place me in such a way as to be able to see the legs of this beautiful child, and even better if you wish to brighten your picture. ”
But even these really frivolous scenes can be read at a different level, one can often see an anxiety, a feeling of end of party sometimes (and it reminds Watteau or the novel Point of tomorrow of Vivant Denon), or There is still a diffuse threat: couples in intimacy, beautiful women who are stripped, sleepy, all this little world of grace and sympathy is observed by a painter who reminds us that youth does not last and that the moments of Lascivious tenderness are fleeting and rare.
Fragonard had worked in particular with Hubert Robert (1733-1808), their collaboration was the subject of an exhibition in Rome at Villa Medici.