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Jean-Honore Fragonard

Jean-Honoré Nicolas Fragonard

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Best known for his flourishly hedonistic scenes, Jean Honoré Fragonard was a French Rococo painter and print maker, who was one of the most prolific painters of the Ancién Regime. He showed a great talent for art at an early age, and was sent to study with the Rococo painter Francois Boucher, who soon trusted him enough to paint replicas of his works. By the time was 20 years old, he won the Prix de Rome, a scholarship to the French Academy, with his painting Jeroboan Sacrificing to the Golden Calf. Three years later, he moved to study at the French Academy of Art in Rome, where he was influenced by the romantic gardens, temples, grottos, terraces, and fountains.

In 1765, he painted Coresus et Callirhoe, which not only secured his position at the Academy, but showed his talent for intimate, mildly erotic scenes, which were favored by wealthy patrons and members of Louis XV’s lascivious court. He was wildly popular until the French Revolution deprived Fragonard of his patrons, many of whom were guillotined or exiled. Without patronage, he left Paris in 1793, living with his friend Maubert, whose house he decorated with a series of lavishly decorated panels.

Upon returning to Paris, he found that he was almost completely forgotten, his erotic scenes seemingly irrelevant after the upheaval of the French Revolution. He died in 1806, and little was written of him or his work until almost half a century later. He is now considered one of the masters of French painting.

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Jean-Honoré Fragonard (French: [ʒã onoʀe fʀaɡonɑʀ]; 4 April 1732 – 22 August 1806) was a French painter and printmaker whose late Rococo manner was distinguished by remarkable facility, exuberance, and hedonism. One of the most prolific artists active in the last decades of the Ancien Régime, Fragonard produced more than 550 paintings (not counting drawings and etchings), of which only five are dated. Among his most popular works are genre paintings conveying an atmosphere of intimacy and veiled eroticism.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard was born at Grasse, Alpes-Maritimes, the son of François Fragonard, a glover, and Françoise Petit. Fragonard was articled to a Paris notary when his father's circumstances became strained through unsuccessful speculations, but showed such talent and inclination for art that he was taken at the age of eighteen to François Boucher. Boucher recognized the youth's rare gifts but, disinclined to waste his time with one so inexperienced, sent him to Chardin's atelier. Fragonard studied for six months under the great luminist, then returned more fully equipped to Boucher, whose style he soon acquired so completely that the master entrusted him with the execution of replicas of his paintings.

Though not yet a pupil of the Academy, Fragonard gained the Prix de Rome in 1752 with a painting of Jeroboam Sacrificing to the Golden Calf, but before proceeding to Rome he continued to study for three years under Charles-André van Loo. In the year preceding his departure he painted the Christ washing the Feet of the Apostles now at Grasse Cathedral. On 17 September 1756, he took up his abode at the French Academy in Rome, then presided over by Charles-Joseph Natoire.

While at Rome, Fragonard contracted a friendship with a fellow painter, Hubert Robert. In 1760, they toured Italy together, executing numerous sketches of local scenery. It was in these romantic gardens, with their fountains, grottos, temples and terraces, that Fragonard conceived the dreams which he was subsequently to render in his art. He also learned to admire the masters of the Dutch and Flemish schools (Rubens, Hals, Rembrandt, Ruisdael), imitating their loose and vigorous brushstrokes. Added to this influence was the deep impression made upon his mind by the florid sumptuousness of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, whose works he had an opportunity to study in Venice before he returned to Paris in 1761.

In 1765 his Coresus et Callirhoe secured his admission to the Academy. It was made the subject of a pompous (though not wholly serious) eulogy by Diderot, and was bought by the king, who had it reproduced at the Gobelins factory. Hitherto Fragonard had hesitated between religious, classic and other subjects; but now the demand of the wealthy art patrons of Louis XV's pleasure-loving and licentious court turned him definitely towards those scenes of love and voluptuousness with which his name will ever be associated, and which are only made acceptable by the tender beauty of his color and the virtuosity of his facile brushwork; such works include the Blind Man's Bluff (Le collin maillard), Serment d'amour (Love Vow), Le Verrou (The Bolt), La Culbute (The Tumble), La Chemise enlevée (The Shirt Removed), and L'escarpolette (The Swing, Wallace Collection), and his decorations for the apartments of Mme du Barry and the dancer Madeleine Guimard. The portrait of Denis Diderot (1769) has recently had its attribution to Fragonard called into question.

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Jean-Honore Fragonard Artworks
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