Jean Honore Fragonard: The Love Letter
After 1767, Fragonard's chief work was decorative panels commissioned by Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XV, for her chateau at Louveciennes. Surprisingly enough, she rejected the panels as unsuitable. This painting was executed shortly before the series, and may have been shown to Madame du Barry as part of Fragonard's "pitch" to win the commission.
In any case, The Love Letter is characteristically muted, with an eroticism that is certainly present, but deeply hidden. What attracts the eye here are the glorious golden colors, and the coquettish attitude of the young lady, rather than body parts. The painting seems to glow with passion.
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Embodying the freedom and curiosity of the French Enlightenment, Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806) developed an exuberant and fluid manner as a painter, draftsman, and printmaker. Prolific and inventive, he abandoned early on the conventional career path dictated by the hierarchical structure of the Royal Academy, working largely for private patrons. His work constitutes a further elaboration of the Rococo idiom established by Antoine Watteau and François Boucher, a manner perfectly suited to his subjects, which favored the playful, the erotic, and the joys of domesticity.
Born in the Provençal city of Grasse, Fragonard moved with his family to Paris in 1738. He spent some time in the busy studio of François Boucher before successfully competing for the Prix de Rome in 1752. He then pursued studies at the École Royale des Elèves Protégés in Paris, following the standard training for a history painter.
In 1756, Fragonard was sent to Italy as a pensioner of the crown; he remained at the French Academy in Rome until 1761. From the numerous black chalk copies he executed there, it is clear that he held masters of the Baroque in the highest esteem, copying works in Rome, Naples, and Venice. Many, such as Saint Celestine V Renouncing the Papacy (1987.239), were made with eventual publication as prints in mind. He also produced brilliant red chalk drawings of the Villa d'Este at Tivoli and painted small cabinet-size paintings for French private collectors living in Rome. The Stolen Kiss (56.100.1) was painted for the bailiff of Breteuil, French ambassador to the Order of Malta in Rome. As in the pastorals of his former master Boucher, Fragonard's rustic protagonists are envisioned with billowing silk clothing, engaged in amorous pursuits. ...