As with so many of Fragonard’s paintings, the original destination of A Game of Horse and Rider and
See Pierre Rosenberg, Fragonard (Paris, 1987), 348 – 349.
The similarities among the four paintings have often been noted, but whether they were intended as part of the same decorative scheme that also included another monumental garden scene, Fête at Saint-Cloud
Pierre Rosenberg first advanced the hypothesis (Pierre Rosenberg, “Les mystères d’une fête,” L’Objet d’art 1 [Nov. 1987]: 62 – 67) that the present paintings, along with the three larger garden scenes, formed a suite of decorative pictures belonging to the Maréchal de Sainscy that appeared in the sale of his estate in 1789 (see Pierre Rosenberg, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Fragonard [Paris, 1989], 130).
Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Fragonard, Life and Work (New York, 1988; French ed. Paris, 1987), 203.
X-radiographs show no evidence of cusping at the top edges, indicating that these works have probably been cut down at the tops, as Jean-Pierre Cuzin thought (Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Fragonard, Life and Work [New York, 1988; French ed. Paris, 1987], 203). Other Fragonards also suffered this fate, including his early pendants, The Seesaw (Madrid, Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza) and Blindman’s Buff (Toledo, Ohio, Toledo Museum of Art), which, judging from eighteenth-century engravings, were similarly cut down at the top; see Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Fragonard, Life and Work (New York, 1988; French ed. Paris, 1987), nos. 43, 44. I am grateful to Elizabeth Walmsley, conservator of paintings at the National Gallery of Art, for her help in interpreting X-radiographs of the paintings.
For example, see Katie Scott, The Rococo Interior: Decoration and Social Spaces in Early Eighteenth-Century Paris (New Haven, 1995), 158, figs. 164, 165.
For example, Robert’s Jet d’eau, painted in 1783 as part of a decorative ensemble, suggests what the proportions of Fragonard’s landscapes may have been before their alteration (oil on canvas, 168 × 59.5 cm, signed and dated 1783, Paris, Musée du Louvre). Fragonard’s four canvases of hollyhocks (New York, Frick Collection; Pierre Rosenberg, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Fragonard [Paris, 1989], nos. 447 – 450), painted around 1790 as additions to The Progress of Love cycle, are also extremely attenuated compositions intended as wall decorations.
The games of blindman’s buff and swinging have remained popular with children today, but horse and rider and hot cockles may be less familiar. Yet both were common in Fragonard’s time, and they appear with some frequency in works of art produced in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
For a history of the games, including numerous illustrations, see Henry René d’Allemagne, Récréations et passe-temps (Paris, 1905), 230 – 243; Gaston Vuillier, Plaisirs et jeux depuis les origines (Paris, 1900), 199 – 200, 214 – 218.
The genesis of Fragonard’s paintings is as mysterious as their original purpose. Although the landscapes and figures in Horse and Rider and Hot Cockles are among the artist’s most accomplished inventions, no preparatory studies for them exist.
Colin Eisler, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian (Oxford, 1977), 331, thought that two drawings (Alexandre Ananoff, L’oeuvre dessiné de Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 4 vols. [Paris, 1961 – 1970], 1: nos. 336, 357, pls. E, F) showed similar groupings of figures to those in Horse and Rider and Hot Cockles, but the relationship is tenuous.
Jacques Stella, Games & Pastimes of Childhood, engr. Claudine Bouzonnet-Stella, trans. Stanley Appelbaum (1657; reprint New York, 1969), nos. 23 (Le Cheval Fondu), 28 (Le Frappe Main).
See H. N. Opperman, “Observations on the Tapestry Designs of J.-B. Oudry for Beauvais (1726 – 1736),” Allen Memorial Art Museum Bulletin 26 (Winter 1968 – 1969): 50 n. 4, 57 – 59; Hal N. Opperman, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, 2 vols. (New York, 1977), 396 – 397, nos. P95 – P102.
As with Fragonard’s larger garden paintings, the possible meanings of these games have been a matter of debate among scholars. We may wonder whether Fragonard’s intention was to invest them with allegorical or emblematic meaning or whether he used them merely to enliven a pair of decorative landscapes. As Colin Eisler pointed out, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (?1525 / 1530 – 1569) included boys playing horse and rider in his painting Children’s Games, which has been interpreted as an evocation of the folly of youth.
Colin Eisler, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian (Oxford, 1977), 332. For Brueghel’s painting, see James Snyder, Northern Renaissance Art: Painting, Sculpture, The Graphic Arts from 1350 to 1575 (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., and New York, 1985), 498 – 499, fig. 565.
Donald Posner, “The Swinging Women of Watteau and Fragonard,” Art Bulletin 64 (March 1982): 75 – 88.
Colin Eisler, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian (Oxford, 1977), 331. For the Greuze, see John Ingamells, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Pictures, 4 vols. (London, 1985 – 1992), 3:202 – 205, P441.
In conceiving A Game of Horse and Rider and A Game of Hot Cockles, Fragonard clearly meant for the viewer to measure one painting against the other, and he invested the landscape settings with a greater significance than is apparent in Oudry’s tapestry designs. Each picture depicts a corner of a vast parkland, with figures playing in the foreground and a view deep into the center distance. With typical sophistication and wit, Fragonard placed the two amusements in settings that comment on and amplify the activities. As with Blindman’s Buff, The Swing, and Fête at Saint-Cloud, Fragonard contrasts two different styles of garden design popular in the eighteenth century — the picturesque and the formal — and populates them with suitable figures enjoying activities proper for their nature.
See Marry D. Sheriff, Fragonard: Art and Eroticism (Chicago, 1990), 85 – 89.
This text was previously published in Philip Conisbee et al., French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue (Washington, DC, 2009), 188–194.
Collection data may have been updated since the publication of the print volume. Additional light adaptations have been made for the presentation of this text online.
January 1, 2009
Possibly William Williams Hope [1802-1855], Rushton Hall, Northamptonshire, and Paris; possibly by gift to Madame Jenny Colon [1808-1842], Paris. Emile [1800-1875] and Isaac [1806-1880] Péreire, Paris, by 1864; (Péreire sale, at their residence by Pillet and Petit, Paris, 6-9 March 1872, no. 61); Frédéric-Alexis-Louis Pillet-Will, comte Pillet [1837-1911], Paris, until at least 1910. (Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Paris, New York, and London), by 1932; Calouste Gulbenkian [1869-1955]; (Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Paris, New York, and London); sold 1942 to the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, New York; gift 1946 to NGA.
- Exposition de tableaux, statues et objects d'art au profit de l'oeuvre des Orphelins d'Alsace-Lorraine, Salle des États au Louvre, Paris, 1885, no. 192, as Le Colin-Maillard.
- Ausstellung von Werken französischer Kunst des XVIII. Jahrhunderts, Königliche Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 1910, no. 317 (no. 44 in French ed.).
- Exhibition of French Art 1200-1900, Royal Academy of Arts, London, 1932, no. 183.
- Recent Additions to the Kress Collection, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1946, no. 770.
- Fragonard, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987-1988, no. 164.
- Das Capriccio als Kunstprinzip. Zur Vorgeschichte der Moderne von Arcimboldo und Callot bis Tiepolo und Goya: Malerei - Zeichnung - Graphik, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne; Kunsthaus Zürich; Palais Harrach, Vienna, 1996-1997, no. 92, repro.
- Bürger, W. "Galerie de MM. Pereire." Gazette des Beaux-Arts ser. I, 16 (April 1864): 201.
- Portalis, Roger. "Les peintures décoratives de Fragonard et les panneaux de Grasse." Gazette des Beaux-Arts ser. 2, 32 (1885): 483.
- Portalis, Roger. Honoré Fragonard, sa vie et son oeuvre. 2 vols. Paris, 1889: 82, 273.
- Nolhac, Pierre de. J.-H. Fragonard. Paris, 1906: 159.
- Frankfurter, Alfred M. The Kress Collection in the National Gallery. New York, 1944: 79, repro. no. 76
- "Kress Makes Important Donation of French Painting to the Nation." Art Digest. vol. 18, no. 19 (1 August 1944): 5
- "One of the Greatest Donations of XVIIIth Century French Painting Ever Received by a Museum - The Kress Collection." The Illustrated London News 115, no. 2992 (26 August 1944):249, repro. 248.
- "The Almanac: French Paintings Given to the National Gallery." The Magazine Antiques 46, no. 5 (November 1944): 288
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1945 (reprinted 1947, 1949): 169, repro.
- Wildenstein and Company. French XVIII Century Paintings. New York, 1948: 4
- Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Great Paintings from the National Gallery of Art. New York, 1952: 124, color repro.
- Einstein, Lewis. "Looking at French Eighteenth Century Pictures in Washington." Gazette des Beaux Arts 67, no. 1048-1049 (May-June 1956): 238-239, repro. 247.
- Réau, Louis. Fragonard: sa vie et son oeuvre. Brussels, 1956: 158.
- Paintings and Sculpture from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1959: 368, repro.
- Wildenstein, Georges. The Paintings of Fragonard. New York, 1960: no. 443
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 51.
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 43, repro.
- Watson, Francis. "Fragonard." Art News Annual 37 (1971): 86
- Mandel, Gabriele. L'Opera completa di Fragonard. Milan, 1972: no. 468, repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 130, repro.
- Eisler, Colin. Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection: European Schools Excluding Italian. Oxford, 1977: 331, fig. 293.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 338, no. 456, color repro.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 157, repro.
- Cuzin, Jean-Pierre. "Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Vie et oeuvre." Fribourg, 1987. English edition New York, 1988: 203, 206, fig. 252, 325-326, no. 340, repro.
- Rosenberg, Pierre. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Fragonard. Paris, 1989: 106, no. 314, repro.
- Sheriff, Mary D. Fragonard. Art and Eroticism. Chicago and London, 1990: 85-89, 117, 118, repro.
- Rosenberg, Pierre. "Fragonard, La Fête à Saint-Cloud, Louis-Pierre Marchal de Sainscy, et la Banque de France." In Place de Victoires: histoire, architecture, societé. Ed. Isabelle Dubois et. al. Paris, 2004: 254-257, repro.
- The Arts of France from François Ier to Napoléon Ier. A Centennial Celebration of Wildenstein's Presence in New York. Exh. cat. Wildenstein & Co., Inc., New York, 2005: 78 (not in the exhibition).
- Milam, Jennifer. Fragonard's Playful Paintings: Visual Games in Rococo Art. Manchester, 2006: 131, 141, 142, 161-163.
- Conisbee, Philip, et al. French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century. The Collections of the National Gallery of Art Systematic Catalogue. Washington, D.C., 2009: no. 38, 188-194, color repro.
The lowest ground layer is red in both paintings, and a local white imprimatura layer may be present over the red ground. The lowest ground layer in both paintings appears to have a faint texture, possibly caused by agglomerations of large pigment particles or sand. The paint has been applied similarly in both paintings, in thin, overlying layers of opaque and glazed paints. The artist used different-sized brushes for different paint layers. The multiple layers that make up the paint film were allowed to dry between working sessions, and thinly painted forms and details can be seen through overlying glazes. The figures were created with color patches of an opaque, paste paint applied in fluid, rapid brushstrokes. The color patches are delineated occasionally with contour lines of a brown, black, or red glazed paint. Much of the paint texture is smooth, but there is brush texture in the skies and in the foregrounds. Infrared reflectography at 1.5 – 1.8 microns revealed a tree trunk extending through and below the brightly lit island in the left middle ground of A Game of Horse and Rider, indicating that the island may not have been part of the original design.
The paintings are in good condition. They are structurally secure, but they have been somewhat flattened by past linings. According to conservation records, Stephen Pichetto relined both paintings in 1943. He also removed a discolored varnish and restored the paintings at that time. There is evidence of moderate abrasion of the paint layers and some loss of glazes in the foliage in the foreground of A Game of Hot Cockles. A Game of Horse and Rider has no significant paint losses; there are only two small areas of damage in A Game of Hot Cockles. One area, which measures about 4 cm, is located in the upper left arm of the woman in blue to the right of center, and the other, a 2.5-cm area, is located in the top of the blue, middle-ground trees on the right. Between 2006 and 2007, both paintings were treated to remove the discolored varnish and inpaint applied in 1943.