Published on May 8, 2014
The Art of Love An Exhibition of Jean-Honore Fragonard’s Works Marissa Chin Spring 2014 Art 202
The Introduction to Rococo Romance The modern age of the eighteenth century was the birth of an artistic transformation throughout Europe. The promises of prosperity and wealth spawned hopes and dreams from the emerging middle class gave way to a style known as Rococo art. After its beginnings in architecture in the salon culture of Paris, it would begin to show in other mediums, such as paintings
The Introduction to Rococo Romance (cont.) The Rococo art style showed elegance and beauty, characterizing itself with scenes of classical love stories and fantastical dreams of romance. Such a style was fit for the French artist, Jean-Honore Fragonard, who was known for his masterpieces that portrayed romance in both the purest and the most sensual of forms.
Blind Man’s Bluff (1751) Romance has many dimensions, ranging from playful and innocent elements to the more intimate and private. Even with the multiple faces of an abstract principal such as love, Fragonard was able to incorporate more than just one view of love in his paintings. One of the best examples of Fragonard’s ability to show the sides of love is his painting “Blind-Man’s Bluff”, painted in 1752. The Toledo Museum of Art in which the painting now resides states “Playfully erotic and sensuously painted, Jean-Honoré Fragonard's scene of youthful flirtation fulfils the eighteenth-century aristocratic French taste for romantic pastoral themes.” (“Blind Man’s Bluff”, Toledo Museum). In the painting, a man and woman sit in an elegant garden in the light of day as they play the children’s game, Blind Man’s Bluff. The bright, elegant colors of the oil on canvas make for a beautiful, but still lighthearted and playful mood. The man is shown teasing his blindfolded lover by stroking her delicate cheek with a small piece of straw. Besides the woman, two small children play the role of the classical cupid. One brushes her hand with a stick in an attempt to distract the woman from what she desires. However, what’s most notable about the scenery is the woman’s expression. As her eyes just barely peek out from underneath the white cloth, a smirk comes across her lips, showing the viewers that she is well aware of the situation at hand.
Blind Man’s Bluff (cont.) The pastel colors of the painting are fit for such romantic imagery. Plenty of symbolism and hidden meanings can be found in the painting. The game Blind Man’s Bluff was commonly shown in art and literature as a symbol of the folly of marriage, where one took their chances in choosing their beloved; though there is only one couple in this picture. The garden in which the couple sit in are of great significance as well, for virginity was often represented by an enclosed garden. Sexuality was a theme in this picture, due to the fact that a broken gate that has fallen off its posts. There is no doubt that the true meaning of the painting “Blind Man’s Bluff” was that of love and sexuality. However, the painting isn’t just purely erotic in nature. Instead, it is better described as an act of courtship and the budding love between a man and a woman.
The Swing (1767) One of the paintings that defines Fragonard as an master of Rococo and one of the most—if not, the most well-known Rococo painting is known as “The Swing”. Painted in 1767, “The Swing” provides a different perspective of romance than that provided by Fragonard’s previous painting “Blind Man’s Bluff”. Rather than the more innocent blooming love depicted in “Blind Man’s Bluff”, “The Swing” has more obvious erotic undertones. The encyclopedic art database Artble states: “Commissioned by the notorious French libertine Baron de St. Julien as a portrait of his mistress, The Swing was to be painted to the following specificity: "I should like you to paint Madame seated on a swing being pushed by a Bishop" (“The Swing”, Artble). In the painting, a young maiden, identified as the Baron's Mistress, sits atop a swing set in a garden rich of greenery. Her legs kick outward to propel her into the skies above as the mistress’s husband assists her flight by pushing her back whenever she comes back down to earth. The perverse Baron conceals his presence by sitting in the bushes below her swing. “[The Baron] gave very specific instructions to Fragonard, stating "Place me in a position where I can observe the legs of that charming girl" (“The Swing”, Artble). As the woman is lifted into the skies and her legs kick upward, the Baron is provided with a perfect view of the underside of her lavish pink dress. If the viewer of the painting were to take a closer look, they would be able to see not only the brush strokes that define her skirt, but the garter that hugs her thigh.
The Swing (cont.) To put more emphasis on the obscenity of the story, two cherubs place themselves below the swing. The gestures of the cherubs show feelings of disgust as they watch the Baron observe his mistress’s intimate areas in great pleasure. One cherub scowls as he looks away while the other simply watches in shock. Furthermore, the stone statue of Cupid has his finger to his lips to intensify the private actions of the affair.
The Stolen Kiss (1788) Another painting which depicts the more secretive side of love is Fragonard’s painting “The Stolen Kiss”. This painting was created in 1788 with oil on canvas, just as many of his other paintings had been painted with. “The Stolen Kiss explores the theme of secretive romance and passionate moments grabbed in a fleeting moment” (The Stolen Kiss, Artble). A man sneaks a quick, but passionate kiss to his lover in secrecy. The posing of the young maiden reiterates the private affair. The woman looks away from the one who kisses her as she leans in towards him, making sure to keep her gaze on any potential viewers. Her grace as well as the detail in every fold of her dress emphasize the exotic scene. The form the maiden taken on is coquettish and the expression that is fixed on her face is sly, almost as if she acknowledges the fact that her sins wouldn’t last. Such expressions and such actions go beyond eroticism.
The Progress of Love (1771-1772) In 1771, Fragonard completed a series of paintings known as “The Progress of Love”, commissioned by the last mistress of Louis XV, Comtesse du Barry. The Frick Collection states “For a pleasure pavilion she commissioned from the architect Ledoux in 1771, the countess ordered from Fragonard four canvases depicting ‘the four ages of love.’” (“The Progress of Love”, Frick Collection). The paintings in these series are large scale paintings that would decorate the fireplace and the adjacent south wall. The illustrations depict a love story, starting from the south wall. These paintings show scenes reminiscent of that of a classical love story such as a proposal of roses from a man to a woman, the man scaling a wall of a garden to meet with his lover, a marriage in which the woman crowns her lover with roses and finally, a calm scene of the lovers reading love letters. The scenes depict more innocent acts of love and their beauty is reflected in Fragonard’s mastery of Rococo. Sadly, for unknown reasons, the mistress was unsatisfied and returned the paintings to the artists. Despite rejection, Fragonard would hold onto his creations and complete seven more parts to the series before finally installing them into his cousin’s villa in southern France.
Conclusion Fragonard was one of the masters of Rococo art during his time. Even if Fragonard was not the first Rococo artist and another artist known as Jean-Antoine Watteu was his predecessor, there is no doubt that Fragonard’s art is nothing short of beautiful With the soft pastel colors and an eye for important artistic concepts such as detail as well as light and shadow, Fragonard was the perfect artist to portray such a beautiful aspect known as love.
Fragonard’s Works of Art
Jean-Honore Fragonard (French, 1732-1806) Blind Man’s Bluff Completed in 1751 Oil on Canvas Located in the Toledo Museum of Art of Toledo, Ohio
Jean-Honore Fragonard (French, 1732-1806) The Swing Completed in 1767 Oil on Canvas Located in the Wallace Collection of London, United Kingdom
Jean-Honore Fragonard (French, 1732-1806) The Progress of Love: The Pursuit Completed in 1771-1772 Oil on Canvas Located in the Frick Collection of New York
Jean-Honore Fragonard (French, 1732-1806) The Progress of Love: The Meeting Completed in 177-1772 Oil on Canvas Located in the Frick Collection of New York
Jean-Honore Fragonard (French, 1732-1806) The Progress of Love: The Lover Crowned Completed in 1771-1772 Oil on Canvas Located in the Frick Collection of New York
Jean-Honore Fragonard (French, 1732-1806) The Progress of Love: Love Letters Completed in 1771-1772 Oil on Canvas Located in the Frick Location of New York
Jean-Honore Fragonard (French, 1732-1806) The Stolen Kiss Completed in 1788 Oil on Canvas Located in the State Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg, Russian Federation
Annotated List of Works Cited "Fragonard's The Swing." Smarthistory. Khan Academy, n.d. Web. 02 May 2014. Smarthistory at Khan Academy is a credible source because it is an open educational resource for art history. Smarthistory was created by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker Many art historians contribute to Smarthistory and the knowledge is open to anyone without payment. Smarthistory has also earned many awards, such as the 2012 Award for Open Courseware Excellent and Time Magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2011 and more.
"Blind-Man’s Buff." Toledo Museum of Art. Toledo Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 30 April 2014. Toledo Museum of Art has the painting “Blind-Man’s Buff” on display. Not only that, Toledo Museum of Art is an established art museum set up in Toledo, Ohio. The scholars behind it have purchased the physical copies of artwork and have committed themselves to doing extensive research on their work, as shown by the bibliography on the website.
"The Swing." Artble. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2014. Artble is a reliable source because it describes itself as an encyclopedic webpage in which one can easily access information about artists from different time periods. Not only that, Artble always puts bibliographies in, showing that they have done their research to make sure that the information they find is accurate.
“The Stolen Kiss." Artble. N.p., n.d. Web. 06 May 2014. Artble is a reliable source because it describes itself as an encyclopedic webpage in which one can easily access information about artists from different time periods. Not only that, Artble always puts bibliographies in, showing that they have done their research to make sure that the information they find is accurate.
The Frick Collection. “Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732- 1806), "The Progress of Love." Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 31 March. 2009. Web. 6 May. 2014. This video is published by The Frick Collection in New York, which has The Progress of Love series on display. Therefore, the scholars behind it have purchased the physical copies of artwork and have committed themselves to doing extensive research on their work.
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