Published: December 5, 2006
Jean-Honore Fragonard’s (1732–1860) brilliant accomplishments as a draftsman in the context of Eighteenth Century French art are the subject of a new exhibition, “Fragonard and the French Tradition,” at The Morgan Library & Museum. The show, which marks the 200th anniversary of Fragonard’s death, will remain on view through January 7.
Through a selection of approximately 40 drawings, taken almost entirely from the Morgan’s collection, by the artist and his compatriots, “Fragonard and the French Tradition” chronicles how Fragonard emerged from the academic tradition of his mentors Francois Boucher (1703–1770) and Charles-Joseph Natoire (1700–1777) to establish himself as an artist with a distinct style. His expert command of the brush yielded some of the most masterful and painterly drawings of the century and his late drawings in graphite and wash are so freely improvised to as to border on abstraction.
A favorite artist of Pierpont Morgan, Fragonard is well represented among the drawings in the collection formed by Charles Fairfax Murray and acquired by Morgan in 1909. Fragonard has remained popular among later collectors; The Morgan has an outstanding group of 20 of his drawings.
Fragonard explored a wide variety of subjects and helped to define the rococo aesthetic. His draftsmanship challenged the traditional role of drawing in the creative process. Rapidly drawn “premieres pensees” (first thoughts) were treated as final drawings and highly finished replicas served as further explorations of painted subjects rather than as preparatory models.
The juxtaposition of Fragonard’s drawings with those by his contemporaries, especially Hubert Robert (1733–1808) reveals Fragonard’s independent approach to nature, portraiture and historical subjects. His individualism becomes even more evident through contrast with sheets by his most earnest follower, Francois-Andre Vincent (1746–1816), whose drawings exhibit both the appeal and inimitable quality of Fragonard’s style.
Drawings by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725–1805) that reflect the emerging trend of emotionally charged genre scenes and Jacques-Louis David (1748–1825) that mark the rise of neoclassicism on the eve of the French Revolution, demonstrate the shift in popular taste away from Fragonard.
“Fragonard and the French Tradition” is organized by Jennifer Tonkovich, associate curator of drawings and prints, The Morgan Library & Museum, 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street. For information, 212-685-0008 or www.themorgan.org.
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