Exhibition | Fragonard in Love: Suitor and Libertine

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on August 18, 2015

Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Den vackra tjänsteflickan ("La résistance inutile"). NM 5415

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Useless Resistance, 1770–73,
18 × 24 inches, 45 × 60 cm (Stockholm: Nationalmuseum)

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Opening next month at the Musée du Luxembourg:

Fragonard Amoureux: Galant et Libertin
Fragonard in Love: Suitor and Libertine
Musée du Luxembourg, Paris, 6 September 2015 — 24 January 2016

Curated by Guillaume Faroult

According to the Goncourt brothers, the eighteenth century was an era of seduction, love and intrigue, and Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806) might have been its main illustrator, if not its main agent. Indeed, the inspiration of love runs through Divine Frago’s protean and generous work, from his early bucolic compositions to the love allegories found in his later works. In turn gallant, libertine, daringly lustful or conversely concerned with new love ethics, his art spans half a century of artistic creativity with ardour and elegance, endlessly reinventing itself to better capture the subtle variations of emotion and love impulse.

Presenting Fragonard’s work for the first time through this love prism, this exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg focuses on the mid-eighteenth century, a time when the spirit of Enlightenment was deeply influenced by English sensualism. The topic of how to delicately express sensuality and emotion was then at the heart of philosophical, literary and artistic concerns. Strongly imbued with these questions as he emerged from François Boucher’s studio, the young Fragonard already brings to fashionable pastoral and mythological compositions a fresh sensitivity, unquestionably marked by sensuality, yet more profound than the strict libertine strategy.

Jean Honoré Fragonard, Stolen Kiss, ca. 1760, 19 x 25 inches, 48.3 x 63.5 cm (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Jean Honoré Fragonard, The Stolen Kiss, ca. 1760, 19 x 25 inches, 48.3 x 63.5 cm (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art)

At the same time, his study of Flemish masters encourages him to transition from sophisticated eroticism to rustic scenes that take on an unequivocal carnal dimension, such as The Stolen Kiss from The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Talented illustrator of La Fontaine’s least restrained Tales, Fragonard, like his colleague, miniaturist and libertine Pierre-Antoine Baudoin, displays an audacity that often matches that of many progressive writers and intellectuals of his time, such as Diderot in The Indiscreet Jewels. Indeed, forceful yet allusive ‘secret’ works for licentious amateurs, created at the beginning of the 1760, contributed to portraying Fragonard as a libertine and painter of ladies’ salons and other intimate scenes. This impish inspiration transpires through a great variety of expressions, from the naughty Useless Resistance in the Nationalmuseum in Stockholm to the sensual yet delicate Kiss (private collection).

In parallel with this independence of mind—or free licence—Fragonard strove to renew with great poetry the theme of fête galante, inherited from Watteau, as the timeless Île d’amour (on loan from the Fondation Calouste Gulbenkian) testifies. Later, in the 1770 and 1780s, following in the steps of the famous The Lock from the Louvre and as de Laclos’s Liaisons Dangereuses knelled the end of literature’s libertine inspiration, his art reached a decisive turning point as he began to explore the true feeling of love through allegories swept by a most delicate lyricism. With infinite subtlety, Fragonard dealt with the mystical dimension of profane love, at the root of what was to become ‘romantic love’.

affiche_fragonard1S E C T I O N S

The Gallant Shepherd
The Loves of the Gods
Rustic and Popular Eros
Fragonard, Illustrator of Libertine Tales
Pierre-Antoine Baudouin, A Libertinist Master
Fragonard and Licentious Imagery
Dangerous Reading
The Revival of the Fête Galante
Love Moralised
Heroic Passion
Romantic Allegory

Curators: Guillaume Faroult, Head of Conservation, Paintings Department, Musée du Louvre, 18th-century French paintings Manager.
Scenography: Jean-Julien Simonot

This exhibition is produced by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux-Grand Palais.

The catalogue is available from Artbooks.com:

Guillaume Faroult, ed., Fragonard Amoureux: Galant et Libertin (Paris: Musées Nationaux, 2015), 288 pages, ISBN: 978-2711862344, 45€ / $75.

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