Fragonard, Jean - Honoré - Musée du Luxembourg
Fragonard in love
According to the Goncourt brothers, the eighteenth century was an era of seduction, love and intrigue, and
>> Jean Honoré Fragonard * 1732 Grasse † 1806 Paris
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 (16.09.2015 - 24.01.2016) at the Musée du Luxembourg focuses on the mid-18th century, a time when the spirit of Enlightenment is 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. 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 Metropolitan Museum. 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”. (Text: Musée du Luxembourg)