Jean-Honore Fragonard: Prolific Rococo Painter of Dreamy Love Scenes.

Okay, wait a minute....I don’t mean to say that they are ‘R’ rated.....Jean-Honore Fragonard didn't paint THOSE kind of ‘love scenes’....but the naive, flirtatious, ‘frolicking in the baroque gardens’ kind of love....The ones typical of the rococo period. Fragonard was an important and prolific painter of rococo paintings in the 18th century.

Jean-Honore Fragonard. Blindman's Bluff. c. 1750-52. The Toledo Museum of Art. US.

Jean-Honore Fragonard was born April 5, 1732, in Grasse, southern France and moved to Paris at age 15 with his family.

Fragonard started working for a lawyer but he spent most of the work day doodling instead of working. Eventually, his parents let him train as an artist instead.

He worked under Jean-Baptiste Chardin for 6 months, and then moved on to apprentice under François Boucher who was very famous at the time. King Louis XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, considered Boucher her favourite painter. [...And King Louis' "Chief Mistress" (maitresse-en-titre), Madame du Barry, incidentally, preferred Fragonard himself and owned the painting below as part of a series of his that she bought to decorate her palace.....because if you were "chief" mistress, you got your own palace!]

Jean-Honore Fragonard. Venus and Cupid. or Day. c.1755. National Gallery of Ireland.

In 1752, Jean-Honore Fragonard entered and won the Prix de Rome, a scholarship to study art at the French Academy in Rome. He didn’t make it to Rome until about four years later, and for about 3 years of that time, he was working and studying under Charles-Andre Vanloo.

In Rome, Fragonard didn’t enjoy having to study classical statues, but he did meet a rich collector named Abbe de Saint-Non, who convinced him that he needed to develop his own style.

Fragonard was back living in Paris by 1761, after about 5 years in Italy. Most of the next four years or so, he spent working quietly on his own.

Jean-Honore Fragonard. The High Priest Coresus Sacrifices Himself to Save Callirhoe. Louvre, Paris.

The success of Jean-Honore Fragonard started when his Coresus Sacrificing himself to Save Callirhoe, presented at the Salon de Paris of 1765, gained him critical acclaim and membership to the French Academy of Fine Arts, the official institute of art at the time. Artists needed to be accepted by the academy in order to be considered successful.

Jean-Honore Fragonard. The Swing. 1767. Wallace Collection London UK
Fragonard moved away from mythological and religious subjects when a private collector named Baron de Saint Julien commissioned The Swing. He asked for a picture showing a young woman frolicking on a swing, while her lover watches from the bushes below.

It was becoming stylish for art to treat love like a harmless pastime and the commissions to Fragonard for this kind of art kept streaming in after The Swing.
These commissions weren’t as glamorous or well-paid as other large historical tableaus would have been, for example, nor were they seen as worthy of approval by the French Academy, but Fragonard liked that they were much quicker and less tedious to paint.

This kind of painting was the epitome of rococo art.

Nearing 1789 and the French Revolution, his paintings fell out of fashion along with the style of rococo. He fled to Grasse during the French Revolution. When he returned to Paris two years later, his whole client base was either gone or guillotined and he spent the rest of his years in poverty.

Jean Honore Fragonard died august 22, 1806. He had produced about 550 paintings in his lifetime.

You can see several of Fragonard’s paintings in the Sully wing of the Louvre, on the second floor. Most of them are in the Fragonard room (#48).

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