Fragonard in Southern California Collections

The exhibition Consuming Passion: Fragonard's Allegories of Love presents a selection from the extraordinary public and private collections of the art of Jean-Honoré Fragonard in the Los Angeles area.

The drawings and paintings in these collections represent the full span of Fragonard's career—from the studies he made in Italy as a pensioner of the French Royal Academy in Rome to the early decorative work done in the Rococo vein of his onetime master François Boucher, and finally to the small cabinet pictures that became the lucrative focus of his later practice.

The J. Paul Getty Museum has two drawings by Fragonard in its collection, Ruins of an Imperial Palace, Rome (1759) and Oh! If Only He Were As Faithful to Me (1770–75). Both are featured in the exhibition.

Appreciating Fragonard
A remarkably versatile artist, Fragonard painted not only the amorous scenes for which he is most celebrated, but also religious pictures, portraits, and landscapes. In all these genres he displayed technical facility as well as stylistic variety, as he both altered his palette over the course of his career and constantly shifted between more finished and sketchlike modes. Such multiplicity attests to Fragonard's openness to a wide range of French, Italian, and Dutch artistic models. Indeed, his reputation as a connoisseur served him well during the French Revolution, when he played a key role in the formation of the collections of the new national museum (now the Louvre) and even served as one of its original curators.

The works shown below demonstrate Fragonard's remarkable range.

Created just before Fragonard's first trip to Rome in 1756, this early decorative work is one of four overdoor paintings on the theme of the seasons made for the Grand Salon of the Hôtel Matignon in Paris. Painted in cool gray and blue tones, the icy landscape is humorously animated by a little girl shocked by her sudden tumble and an agitated puppy barking at her side.

Winter / Fragonard

This preciously small painting of a boy of about three years may portray Fragonard's son, Alexandre-Evariste, affectionately known as Fanfan. The boy wears a ruffled collar reminiscent of the Spanish costumes Fragonard relished painting in his figures de fantaisie, or fantasy figures.

The loose, fluid brushwork and warm brown and yellow tones testify to the artist's interest in the golden age of Dutch painting, particularly the work of Rembrandt.

Portrait of Child / Fragonard

Depicting mischievous girls playing with their dogs in a pillowy bedroom setting, this lighthearted piece of erotica is typical of the more risqué works Fragonard produced for his wealthy patrons.

The utter frivolity of the scene is offset by the consummate painterly skill he demonstrated in treating the abundant materials and constructing the standing girl's reflection in the large gilt mirror behind her.

Two Girls / Fragonard

This intimate oil sketch depicting the young Virgin Mary and her mother, Saint Anne, was painted at about the same time as Fragonard's late allegories of love. It shares their almost monochromatic palette—largely restricted to whites, yellows, and browns—and their dramatic, otherworldly lighting.

Although less known for his tender religious scenes, Fragonard demonstrated here his gift for portraying maternal love, a theme of many of his familial genre scenes as well.

Education / Fragonard

Fragonard and the Abbé Saint-Non, his patron, admirer, and friend, toured Italy together, giving the artist an opportunity to study the works of the Italian masters. The two traveled to numerous cities, accessing troves of paintings in private collections, churches, and museums. While drawings such as these record other artists' works, Fragonard's vigorous, quickening touch is fully evident.

Such studies were immensely important to Saint-Non, who used them as models for reproductive prints, and they proved an invaluable source of inspiration for Fragonard throughout his career.

Study after St Francis in Ecstasy / Fragonard