Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Jean-Honoré Fragonard

As a versatile French painter of the 18th Rococo period, Jean-Honoré Fragonard produced over 500 paintings excluding some of his etchings and drawings. His brilliant skill in painting was first honed by Francois Boucher but it was Tiepolo and Bartolome Murillo who influenced him most. No wonder Fragonard became a highly skilled oil painting painter, printmaker and landscape artist.

His choice of subjects will vary as well because he had always been a curious individual, encompassing mythology, outdoor and indoor scenes, religion and history. He found love in history painting at the start of his early career, particularly when he became involved with the French Royal Academy. But he then shifted to painting low-ranking genres (as per the Hierarchy of Genres of the academy) because it matched his spontaneous take on his art.

Even though Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s career during the French Revolution (1789-93) suffered, as he almost turned dormant in his job, art historians would still conclude his professional life as highly successful. However, out of his 550 paintings, only five of which had been dated. These works are as follows:

  • The Swing – 1767, Wallace Collection
  • The Fountain of Love – 1780, Wallace Collection
  • The Bolt – 1778, Louvre
  • A Young Girl Reading – 1776, National Gallery of Art
  • The Stolen Kiss – 1787, Hermitage in St. Petersburg

Early Life

Jean-Honoré Fragonard was born in 1732 in Grasse, a town in southern France. The Fragonard family moved to Paris, France when he was six years old. There his family met Francois Boucher, Jean’s earliest mentor and then upon the endorsement of the master, he was accepted in the studio of Jean Simeon Chardin.

However, Chardin and Fragonard had their distinct differences that led him to only stay for less than a year. The master was successful in teaching him the rudiments and discipline of the art, though, so it was enough for him to become a pupil of Boucher a year after.

Under Boucher, he studied tapestry, décor and oil painting. He also provided assistance to the master’s commissions, which opened him up to the idea of making copies of the virtuoso’s important works such as Hercules and Omphale. Jean got also inspired by the works of the Dutch painter Rembrandt, specifically the Girl with Broom.

Early Success

One of Fragonard’s most notable milestones in Paris was when he won the Prix de Rome in 1752. It was a scholarship program offered by the French Royal Academy of Painting and Sculpture that allows the winner to study in Rome for three to five years. His winning entry was entitled Jeroboam Sacrificing to the Idols, and his association with Boucher did matter a lot as well.

The scholarship was followed by a three-year training stint at the Ecole Royale des Eleves Proteges. Since 1753, he produced a larger number of paintings than before such as Psyche Showing her Sisters Cupid’s Presents which he completed by 1754 and Christ Washing the Disciples’ Feet by a year after. This period had been a productive one for Fragonard, within which he completed another set of paintings that depicted mythological narratives like Cephalus and Procris.

Scholarship in Rome

By 1756, Fragonard traveled to Rome to pursue his scholarship which took him five years to finish. However, unlike his contemporaries like Chardin who was influenced by the works of Titian and Raphael, he opted to settle for a freer manner of painting than the rigid Italian Renaissance painting style of the mentioned masters. This is why his style was more comparable to that of Giambattista Tiepolo, a well-known Rococo painter.

While in Rome, Fragonard made sure of using his skill by executing drawings of the Villa d’Este in Tivoli. The drawings were reminiscent of his early works back in Paris. After completing his studies in Rome, he returned to France by 1761 where he would stay until his death. He came back as popular as ever that he gained a good number of patrons most of which were private art collectors.

Back to Paris

Fragonard once accepted a public commission by the French Academy. He was tasked to work on a mythological painting that must pass the grand standards of the academy; therefore, he was bounded by the established French art at the time; grand, mannerist and classicist.

As a result, Fragonard executed Coresus and Callirhoe painting in 1765. It was greatly praised by all scholars and collectors that he earned the reputation of being the savior of history painting in France consequently. Needless to say, he attained the highest form of art in the academy at the time.

However, as he originally preferred the freer and spontaneous temperament way of painting, he opted not to pursue history painting. The accolade that he had recently received could mean a chief position at the king’s court, but he conceded this in exchange for erotic painting style. This decision had also rendered him lesser exhibits at the Salon but he found opportunities with Salon de la Correspondence, which was run by wealthy art collectors.

His commitment to the de la Correspondence somehow caused his contemporaries to think ill about his reputation. Fragonard was believed to be going in favor of the wealth collectors because of money disregarding his artistic integrity that he could have proven true under the sponsorship of the academy. Nevertheless, Fragonard did not seem to regret it because he certainly enjoyed the creative freedom that his patrons gave him. He developed a finer approach to his coloring and brushwork. Examples of his works during this period include The Swing (1767), The Tumble, and Love Vow.

As a Painter to Private Art Collectors

Between 1768 and 1772, Jean-Honoré Fragonard mainly worked on a portrait collection called “Figure de Fantaisie”. This opportunity allowed him to show his technical knowledge and skill in executing a new genre of portraiture.

Fragonard reached the virtuoso level at this point of his career that he was able to portray fantasy, the ideal world rather than realistic representations of the portrait. He painted portraits of Denis Dedirot (1769), Francois-Henri Duc d’Harcourt (1770), Abbe Richard de Saint-Non (1769), and Anne-Francois d’Harcourt duc de Beuvron (1770).
Aside from making portraits of noblemen and women, Fragonard also found time to accommodate decorative painting commissions for collectors like Jacques-Onesyme Begeret de Grancourt. One important commission he made was for King Louis XV’s mistress, Madame du Barry, was a four-part decorative art work called The Progress of Love which he worked on from 1770 to 1773. However, unfortunately, the work was rejected by the mistress.

The unsuccessful attempt at impressing Madame du Barry did not stop Fragonard to try again. During the 1770’s, a new French art was emerging, Neo-classicism to which he tried to respond by using a more polished and defined brushwork. He also tried to depict religious subjects in his works, in an effort to remain on-trend. He still remained active in painting Rococo landscapes, though. He was still able to produce a major work of this genre as a matter of fact. The Fountain of Love and Fete at Saint-Cloud are the most prominent examples.

Later Years and Death

The French Revolution affected his productivity negatively. He lost several of his significant patrons during this period because they were either executed to death by the people or exiled. This unfortunate turn of events forced him to leave Paris in 1789 and sought refuge with a relative named Alexandre Maubert at Grasse.
There, in his birth town, he worked as administrative personnel for the Louvre Palace. He luckily was appointed President of the Conservatoire des Arts, where he remained active for the last ten years of his life. In 1800, Fragonard’s popularity would have gone downhill as his Rococo painting style quickly became out of fashion at the time. Neoclassical art took over at the turn of the new century so Fragonard died in obscurity in August 22, 1806.