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, “Jean Honoré Fragonard/Young Girl Reading/c. 1769,” Focus Section – French Paintings of the Eighteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/46303 (accessed November 21, 2017).

 

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Thu Jan 01 00:00:00 EST 2009 Version

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Overview

In about 1769, Jean Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732 - 1806) painted a group of works known today as his fantasy figures: vibrant canvases showing individual models garbed in fancy dress and rendered in notably loose brushwork and bright colors. Among the most beloved works in his oeuvre, these pictures are also the most mysterious and have therefore prompted the most debate—produced for unknown reasons, perhaps representing real individuals, perhaps not.

The Gallery’s Young Girl Reading—a representation of a demure model in a lemon-yellow dress seated at a window ledge, a book in one upraised hand—has always been loosely associated with the fantasy figures on formal terms. On the one hand, compelling evidence supported a connection between the two. The dimensions of the Gallery’s picture (approximately 81 × 65 cm) are identical, or nearly so, to those of the fantasy figures. Its palette, dominated by bold yellow, mauve, and rose, recalls their coloring; its energetic, gestural brushwork reappears throughout the canvases; its costume, with its elaborate collar, evokes the elegant masquerade dress of the other models. Yet on the other, Young Girl Reading retreats resolutely into her book, appearing remote and absorbed, whereas the other fantasy figures are frontally turned toward the viewer.

In 2012, researchers discovered a previously unknown drawing by Fragonard that included sketches of 18 paintings, many recognizable as known fantasy figures. The drawing also included a sketch corresponding to Young Girl Reading, thereby conclusively establishing a relationship between this painting and the fantasy figures. This became the impetus for a new scholarly evaluation of the Gallery’s painting: a long-term project culminating with an exhibition, Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures, on view in the West Building from October 8 through December 3.

Entry

For a copy of the 2009 entry on this painting from the systematic catalogue French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, please see the file available for download on this page under "Archived Version(s)." 

Provenance

Verrier;[1] (his sale, Paillet at Hôtel d'Aligre, Paris, 11 March 1776 and days following, no. 80); purchased by Mailly or Neiully [sic]. (sale, Paillet at Hôtel d'Aligre, Paris, 7 February 1777, no. 15). Jean François Leroy de Sennéville [1715-1784], Paris; (his sale, Chariot and Paillet at Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, 5-11 April 1780, no. 59); purchased by Duquesnoy, Paris; (his sale, at his residence by Regnault, Paris, 1-3 March 1803, no. 19). (sale, Alliance des Arts, Paris, 26 April 1844, no. 14). Casimir Perrin, marquis de Cypierre [1783-1844], Paris; (his estate sale, at his residence by Thoré, Paris, 10 March 1845 and days following, no. 55). Comte Pierre de Kergorlay [1847-1919], by 1889.[2] (Gimpel and Wildenstein, Paris); sold 1899 to Ernest Cronier [1840-1905], Paris; (his estate sale, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 4-5 December 1905, 1st day, no. 8); purchased by Ducrey. Dr. Théodore Tuffier [1859-1929], Paris, by 1910 [or possibly purchased 1905 at Cronier sale through Ducrey], until at least 1928. (Wildenstein & Co., Inc., Paris, New York, and London); Alfred W. Erickson [1876-1936], New York, by 1930;[3] by inheritance to his wife, Anna Edith McCann Erickson [d. 1961], New York; (her sale, Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 15 November 1961, no. 16); purchased by NGA with funds provided by Ailsa Mellon Bruce [1901-1969], New York.

Exhibition History
1909
Cent portraits de femme, Jeu de Paume, Paris, 1909, no. 64, repro.
1910
Ausstellung von Weken Französischer Kunst des XVIII. Jarhhunderts, Königliche Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 1910, no. 138 (no. 51 in French edition of catalogue).
1921
Exposition d'oeuvres de J.-H. Fragonard, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Pavillon de Marsan, Paris, 1921, no. 56.
1933
Three French Reigns (Louis XIV, XV & XVI), Sir Philip Sassoon's Residence, London, 1933, no. 517.
1935
French Painting and Sculpture of the XVII Century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1935-1936, no. 45, repro.
1951
Wildenstein Jubilee Loan Exhibition, 1901-1951: Masterpieces from Museums and Private Collections, Wildenstein & Co., New York, 1951, no. 29, repro.
1969
In Memoriam, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, unnumbered checklist.
1980
Fragonard, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo; Kyoto Municipal Museum, 1980, no. 61, repro.
1987
Fragonard, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987-1988, no. 136, repro.
2002
Painting Women: Fragonard to Bouguereau, San Diego Museum of Art, 2002-2003, no cat.
2003
The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Altes Museum, Berlin, 2003-2004, no. 81, repro.
2007
Inspiring Impressionism: The Impressionists and the Art of the Past, High Museum of Art, Atlanta; Denver Art Museum; Seattle Art Museum, 2007-2008, no. 38, repro.
Bibliography
1889
Portalis, Roger. Honoré Fragonard, sa vie et son oeuvre. 2 vols. Paris, 1889: 202, 282.
1906
Nolhac, Pierre de. J.-H. Fragonard. Paris, 1906: 147, repro.
1910
Glaser, Curt. "Ausstellung von Werken Französischer Kunst des 18. Jahrhunderts in der Königlichen Akademie der Künste zu Berlin." Zeitschrift für Bildende Kunst 21 (March 1910):133, repro.
1929
Osborn, Max. Die Kunst des Rokoko. Berlin, 1929: repro. 227, 614.
1956
Réau, Louis. Fragonard: sa vie et son oeuvre. Brussels, 1956: 171.
1960
Wildenstein, Georges. The Paintings of Fragonard. New York, 1960: no. 391, repro.
1962
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 112, color repro.
1963
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 214, repro.
1965
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 52
1966
Boucher, François. Fragonard. Paris, 1966: XII, repro.
1966
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds. A Pageant of Painting from the National Gallery of Art. 2 vols. New York, 1966: 2:322, color repro.
1968
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 44, repro.
1969
Walker, John. Self Portrait with Donors. Boston & Toronto, 1969:45-46, repro.
1971
Cott, Perry B."The Ailsa Mellon Bruce Gifts." The Connoisseur 178 (Dcember 1971): 256-257, repro.
1972
Mandel, Gabriele. L'Opera completa di Fragonard. Milan, 1972: no. 419, repro.
1975
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 132, repro.
1978
King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 64, pl. 37.
1979
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 87, pl. 75.
1979
Wilson, Michael. Eighteenth-Century French Painting. Oxford, 1979:8, repro. pl. 35
1984
Norton, Thomas E. 100 Years of Collecting. New York, 1984:174, repro.
1984
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 336, no. 451, color repro.
1985
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 160, repro.
1987
Cuzin, Jean-Pierre. "Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Vie et oeuvre." Fribourg, 1987. English edition New York, 1988: 117, 120, 294, no. 179, repro. pl. 143.
1987
Lévêque, Jean-Jacques, La vie et l'oeuvre de Jean Honoré Fragonard. Paris, 1987:72-73, repro.
1989
Rosenberg, Pierre. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Fragonard. Paris, 1989: 93, no. 201, repro.
1991
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 259, color repro.
1992
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 173, repro.
1995
Apostolos-Cappadona, Diane. The Spirit and the Vision: The Influence of Christian Romanticism on the Development of 19th-Century American Art. Atlanta, 1995: 83-85, fig. 11.
1997
Acton, Mary. Learning to Look at Paintings. London, 1997: 10-12, fig. 3.
1998
Faxon, Alicia Craig. "Reading." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography. 2 vols. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. Chicago and London, 1998: 2:768.
1999
Zuffi, Stefano and Francesca Castria, La peinture baroque. Translated from Italian by Silvia Bonucci and Claude Sophie Mazéas. Paris, 1999: 317, color repro.
2001
Southgate, M. Therese. The Art of JAMA II: Covers and Essays from The Journal of the American Medical Association. Chicago, 2001: 70-71, color repro.
2004
Eco, Umberto. Storia della bellezza. Milan, 2004: 275 (color detail), 277, color repro. (English ed. New York, 2004: 275, 277, color repros.
2004
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 255, no. 207, color repro.
2005
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: 60 (repro. no. 61), 73 (not in the exhibition).
2009
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. 31, 160-166, color repro.
2009
Cooper, Harry. The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection: Selected Works. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2009: 6-7.
2012
Hess, Jonathan M. "Reading and the Writing of German-Jewish History." In Literary Studies and the Pursuits of Reading ed. Eric Downing, Jonathan M. Hess, and Richard V. Benson. Rochester, 2012: 120-122, fig. 5.6.
2012
Percival, Melissa. Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure: Painting the Imagination. Burlington, Vt., 2012: viii, 23, 26, 29, 149-150 , color pl. 14.
2013
Harris, Neil. Capital Culture: J. Carter Brown, the National Gallery of Art, and the Reinvention of the Museum Experience. Chicago and London, 2013: 7, 67.
2015
Dupuy-Vachey, Marie-Anne. "Fragonard's 'fantasy figures': prelude to a new understanding." The Burlington Magazine 157 (April 2015): 241-247, figs. 8, 12.
2015
Goulemot, Jean M. Le petit dictionnaire: Fragonard, en 16 plaisirs. Paris, 2015: 51-52, color repro.
2015
Jackall, Yuriko, John K. Delaney, and Michael Swicklik. "'Portrait of a woman with a book': a 'newly discovered fantasy figure' by Fragonard at the National Gallery of Art, Washington." The Burlington Magazine 157, no. 1345 (April 2015): 248-254, figs. 17, 19-22, 27.
2015
Matthew Knox Averett. “Introduction: The Early Modern Child in Art and History.” In The Early Modern Child in Art and History. Edited by Matthew Knox Averett. The Body, Gender and Culture 18. Oxford and New York, 2015: 16, fig. 1.4.
2017
Jackall, Yuriko and John Delaney. "Fragonard's Fantasy Figures." National Gallery of Art Bulletin 56 (Spring 2017): 36-37, repro.
Technical Summary

The support is a slightly coarse plain-weave fabric. The painting has been lined, and the tacking margins have been removed. Prominent cusping on all four edges suggests that the painting has not been cut down. The support was prepared with two ground layers: a pale-gray layer covered by a fawn-colored layer. The paint was applied vigorously, with impasto in highlights and thin washes that leave the ground partially visible in the shadows. The gray shadowed lines in the girl’s collar and fichu were created by incising into the wet white paint with the butt end of the brush to reveal the gray layer beneath. The X-radiograph was originally thought to reveal an earlier painting underneath the current head showing the head of a man wearing a feathered hat. Further analysis (false-color infrared imaging and XRF elemental mapping of both lead white and vermillion) conducted between 2013 and 2015 produced images indicating that the underlying head is actually that of a woman wearing a beaded and feathered headdress, her face turned out to gaze directly at the viewer. Due to an increase in the translucency of the surface paint, the outline, eyes, and feathered headdress of the woman are now slightly visible as pentimenti. Cross-sectional analysis shows that there is no intermediate paint layer between the two heads, nor is there varnish or dirt between them. Additionally, it shows that the original paint layer was not disrupted in any way when painted over, suggesting it was dry before the application of the now-visible paint layer. This suggests that Fragonard did not embark on the repainting immediately, as the lower layer would require at least six months to dry to this degree.[1]

Overall, the painting is in good condition. To the right of the girl’s neck is a small complex tear. A larger J-shaped tear extends through the pillow and arm of the chair at the bottom right. The paint is slightly abraded in the thinly painted folds and shadows of the dress and in the darks along the bottom of the painting. In 1985 a discolored varnish was removed, and the two distorted tears were realigned and inpainted. The sitter’s head from the previous painting, which had become distractingly visible, was also inpainted at that time. In 1986 a slightly toned varnish was applied. The inpainting of the larger tear has discolored slightly, but the remainder of the inpainting and the varnish have not.