The Forgotten Master: Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Jean-Honoré Fragonard was a French Rococo painter and printmaker, born on April 5th 1732 in Grasse in the south of France. He trained in Paris with Chardin and then later Boucher. Fragonard is considered as one of the all-time masters of French painting, with his unique handling of colour coupled with expressive and confident brush strokes, influencing the impressionists that followed him.
Fragonard’s style embraces the freedom and curiosity that embodied the French Enlightenment, developing an exuberant and fluid manner as a painter, draftsman, and printmaker. As one of the most prolific artists of his generation, Fragonard went on to produce more than 550 paintings, not to mention countless drawings and etchings which he rarely dated, many can be found in Europeana. His work is renowned for creating a sense of intimacy with an underlying eroticism.
Fragonard travelled often and created dreamy landscapes with Hubert Robert, responding with a special sensitivity to the gardens of the Villa d’Este at Tivoli, elements of which occur in paintings throughout his career. Some of his most famous works include them of Madam du Barry, Louis XV’s most beautiful mistress, for whom he painted – these works are often regarded as his masterpieces.
Towards the end of Fragonard’s life, the old social order was collapsing under the freedom of the press and the explosion of knowledge thanks to ‘The Enlightenment’. As a result the French Revolution took shape, deeply affecting Fragonard and his private patrons, who were either guillotined or exiled. On top of this he failed to successfully adapt his style to the new neoclassical vogue, later becoming forgotten and ruined by the Revolution, dying in poverty.