Search the Collections

Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Death Date: 
Death Place: 
Rococo painter. Works characterized by a delicate hedonism. Son of a haberdasher's assistant. Family moved to Paris around 1738, and in 1747 he was apprenticed to a lawyer, who, noticed his talent for drawing and suggested that he study painting. François Boucher accepted him as a pupil (c. 1748), and in 1752, recommended that he compete for the Prix de Rome scholarship to study under the court painter to Louis XV, Carle Van Loo, in Paris. In 1756, he went off with other scholarship winners to the French Academy at Rome. At the academy he copied paintings by Roman Baroque artists, and made numerous sketches of the Roman countryside. His scholarship ended in 1759 but he was allowed to remain in residence for several months. In 1760 a wealthy patron took him on a prolonged tour of Italy, where he studied Italian paintings and antiquities and made hundreds of sketches of the local scenery. After returning to Paris, Fragonard exhibited some landscape paintings at the Salon, one of which was purchased for King Louis XV. Subsequently, he was commissioned to paint a companion piece, granted a studio in the Louvre Palace, and accepted as an Academician. However, after 1767 he ceased to exhibit at the salons, and concentrated on landscapes (often in the manner of 17th-century Dutch painter Jacob van Ruisdael), portraits anddecorative, semierotic outdoor party scenes in the style of Boucher. His admiration for Rembrandt, Peter Paul Rubens, Frans Hals, and a Venetian contemporary, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, are evident in a large series of heads of old men, between 1760 and 1767, and a series of portraits (c. 1765-72) in a similar style in which the sitters' fantastic costumes were emphasized rather than their facial expressions. In 1769 he married Marie-Anne Gérard from Grasse. In the last years before the Revolution, Fragonard turned from Rococo to Neoclassical subject matter and developed a less fluent style of painting. Fragonard's art was too closely associated with the pre-Revolutionary period to make him acceptable during the Revolution, which left him with no private patrons. He retired to Grass, returning to Paris in 1791, where Jacques-Louis David obtained for him a post with the Museum Commission, but this was revoked in 1797. He lived the rest of his life in obscurity, and painted little. His death passed almost unnoticed, while his work remained unfashionable until well after 1850. Fragonard has been bracketed by some with Watteau as one of the two great poetic painters of an unpoetical 18th century France. A prodigiously active artist, Fragonard produced more than 550 paintings, several thousand drawing, and 35 etchings. His style, influenced to some extent by Rubens, was rapid, vigorous, and fluent. Although most of his career was passed during the Neoclassical period, Fragonard continued to paint in his Rococo style until shortly before the French Revolution. Only five paintings by Fragonard are dated, but the chronology of the rest can be deduced from other sources such as engravings, documents, etc.