The Artist Jean-Honore Fragonard

One of the Rococo movement’s best known artists, Jean-Honore Fragonard was born in Grasse, France in 1732. One of the most prolific artists of his day, Fragonard produced more than 550 paintings. He was also proficient at drawing and etching. His subject matter was quite varied, but he is best remembered for his Rococo stylized works that featured romantic scenes which appealed to King Louis XV and his pleasure-seeking court.

The son of a glover, Fragonard was nearly destined to work as a notary, but his artistic talent led to his discovery by the artist Francois Boucher. Boucher sent Fragonard to study with Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin for a period. Later Boucher trained Fragonard and even allowed him to reproduce his own paintings. Even before his acceptance to the prestigious French Academy at Rome, Fragonard won the Prix de Rome in 1752 for his painting Jeroboam Sacrificing to the Golden Calf. However, it was Fragonard’s Coresus et Callirhoe, a painting bought by Louis XV, that secured his entrance to the Academy.

While in Rome, Fragonard studied Dutch and Flemish master painters like Rubens and Rembrandt. He also spent time in Venice and came under the influence of its sumptuous works of art. Although Fragonard painted many gardens, temples, and fountains while touring Italy, France’s wealthy patrons wanted scenes that conveyed eroticism. One of Fragonard’s most well-known paintings, The Swing, is a prime example of his work during this period. The whimsical and carefree nature of this work is matched with a style that is both elegant and sophisticated.

In 1769 Fragonard married Marie-Anne Gerard. They had a daughter, Rosalie (born 1769) and a son, Alexandre-Evariste (1780). Fragonard loved to paint his daughter who often modeled for him. She is the subject of his Young Woman Standing (c.1782-1785) conceived in red chalk. It is owned by Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum. Some of the artist’s best known works, however, include A Young Girl Reading (1776) and The Captured Kiss (c. 1780s) owned by the Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

The French Revolution witnessed the deaths of many of Fragonard’s wealthy patrons. Fragonard left Paris himself in 1793. When Fragonard returned to the French capital in the early 1800s, the art scene had changed and he was essentially forgotten. His work would remain ignored for some fifty years until it was re-evaluated and praised for its use coloration and brushstroke techniques. Today the artist is considered one of France’s master painters. The artist died in 1806 in Paris. His son went on to become a painter and sculpture of considerable talent and lived to 1850.