The French painter Jean-Honore Fragonard was born in Grasse in 1732 as the son of a perfume maker. Fragonard was taught by the important painter François Boucher, who instructed him in the necessary foundations for his shining career as a painter for the French court. But his luck did not last very long: Due to the French revolution in summer 1789, Fragonard lost his aristocratic clientèle and had to flee back to his home town, taking all his pictures with him. Until 1898 these were hanging in the Villa Fragonard.
Later, they were sold, after they had been sent to be copied by the Lyon painter Labrelie. In Grasse, Jean-Honore Fragonard was received with great honors. He continued to receive commissions. Among others, he painted grisailles of patriotic motifs and motifs of freemasonry in the staircase of the villa now used as Musee Fragonard. This choice of motif can be traced back to his cousin and childhood friend Maubert, a perfume manufacturer, who had bought and refurbished the villa built by Madame Rogon in the 1780s, and who was a committed freemason.
In 1791 Jean-Honore Fragonard painted a precious series of pictures on the subject of the progression of love in the heart of a young woman, which the great erotic painter had painted on commission from Madame Du Harry, the mistress of Luis IV in 1771 and 1773. These pieces were intended for the games room in the the pavilion of Louveciennes near Paris, but in the end, Madame Du Harry refused to put them up.
The French painter Jean-Honore Fragonard died in 1806. Today visitors to Grasse can only see copies of Jean-Honore Fragonard’s work. Fragonard’s originals have now become one of the main attractions in the New York Frick Collection. In spite of this loss, the museum in Grasse offers a glimpse into the work of this important 18th century French painter, through numerous other important originals. Jean-Honoré Fragonard oil on canvas painting with frame title A Young Girl Reading 1776. Fragonard painted several young girls in moments of quiet solitude. These works are not portraits but evocations, similar to the “fantasy portraits” Fragonard made of acquaintances as personifications of poetry and music. He painted these very quickly—in an hour, according to friends—using bold, energetic strokes. A Young Girl Reading is painted over such a fantasy portrait and shares its brilliant technique. The girl’s dress and cushion are painted with quick and fluid strokes, in broad unblended bands of startling color: saffron, lilac, and magenta. Her fingers are defined by mere swerves of the brush. Using the wooden tip of a brush, Fragonard scratched her ruffed collar into the surface of the paint. This is the “swordplay of the brush” that Fragonard’s contemporaries described, not always with universal approval. His spontaneous brushwork, rather than the subject, becomes the focus of the painting. Fragonard explored the point at which a simple trace of paint becomes a recognizable form, dissolving academic distinctions between a sketch and finished painting.