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Lectures and Book Signings
Textures and Tissues: On Fragonard's Paint Handling

November 1 at 3:30
West Building Lecture Hall
Mechthild Fend, reader in history of art, University College London

Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806) is well known for his virtuoso paint handling. The exhibition Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures, on view from October 8 through December 3, 2017, at the National Gallery of Art, draws particular attention to the visible traces of the artist’s brush. The brushwork looks lively and might seem spontaneous; it is, however, the result of precise skill and extensive artistic training. Eighteenth-century artists and art theorists were highly responsive to the artist’s touche and the craftsmanship of artworks, and the literature detailed at length various approaches to brush handling. In this lecture, Mechthild Fend discusses Fragonard’s imitation of human skin within the context of contemporary medical discourse and art literature. Moving away from the recent interest in identifying the sitters, Fend argues that the fantasy figures are more concerned with catching moments of inspiration or modes of attention—for example, during the act of reading—and that the energetic brushstrokes correspond to the physical sensitivities of the staged figures.

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