Forthcoming Title: ‘Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure’

Posted in books by Editor on May 16, 2011

Coming this December, as noted at Ashgate:

Melissa Percival, Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure: Painting the Imagination (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2011), 304 pages, ISBN: 9781409401377, $124.95.

A fresh interpretation of the group of Fragonard’s paintings known as the “figures de fantaisie,” Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure: Painting the Imagination reconnects the fantasy figures with neglected visual traditions in European art, and firmly situates them within the cultural and aesthetic contexts of eighteenth-century France. Previously discussed in connection with portraiture, this study relocates Fragonard’s paintings within a tradition of fantasy figures, where resemblance was ignored or downplayed. The book defines Fragonard as a painter of the imagination, and foregrounds the imaginary at a time when Enlightenment rationalism and classical aesthetics contrived to delimit the imagination. The book unravels scholarly writing on these Fragonard paintings, and examines the history of the fantasy figure from early modern Europe to eighteenth-century France. Emerging from this background is a view of Fragonard turning away from the academically sanctioned “invention,” towards more playful variants of the imaginary: fantasy and caprice. Melissa Percival demonstrates how fantasy figures engage both artists and viewers, allowing artists to unleash their imaginations through displays of virtuosity, and viewers to use their imagination to explore the paintings’ unusual juxtapositions and humour.

Contents: Introduction; Fact and fantasy: demystifying Fragonard’s fantasy figures; The fantasy figure in European painting; Fragonard, ‘pasticheur inspiré’; Departures from resemblance; Fictional identities; Fantaisie and caprice; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.

Melissa Percival is Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Exeter, UK

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In this smartly written, thoroughly researched work, Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure, Melissa Percival explodes the myth that Fragonard’s fantasy figures are dazzling but impenetrable images; she offers instead a wide range of interpretive perspectives that provides the ground for a renewed appreciation of these works. In a book that is a model of scholarly clarity, Percival has made a valuable contribution to Fragonard studies.

–Julie-Anne Plax, University of Arizona

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