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, “Jean Honoré Fragonard/Young Girl Reading/c. 1769,” Focus Section – French Paintings of the Eighteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, (accessed March 18, 2018).


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Jan 01, 2009 Version

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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.


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)." 


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
Cent portraits de femme, Jeu de Paume, Paris, 1909, no. 64, repro.
Ausstellung von Weken Französischer Kunst des XVIII. Jarhhunderts, Königliche Akademie der Künste, Berlin, 1910, no. 138 (no. 51 in French edition of catalogue).
Exposition d'oeuvres de J.-H. Fragonard, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Pavillon de Marsan, Paris, 1921, no. 56.
Three French Reigns (Louis XIV, XV & XVI), Sir Philip Sassoon's Residence, London, 1933, no. 517.
French Painting and Sculpture of the XVII Century, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1935-1936, no. 45, repro.
Wildenstein Jubilee Loan Exhibition, 1901-1951: Masterpieces from Museums and Private Collections, Wildenstein & Co., New York, 1951, no. 29, repro.
In Memoriam, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 1969, unnumbered checklist.
Fragonard, National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo; Kyoto Municipal Museum, 1980, no. 61, repro.
Fragonard, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987-1988, no. 136, repro.
Painting Women: Fragonard to Bouguereau, San Diego Museum of Art, 2002-2003, no cat.
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.
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.
Portalis, Roger. Honoré Fragonard, sa vie et son oeuvre. 2 vols. Paris, 1889: 202, 282.
Nolhac, Pierre de. J.-H. Fragonard. Paris, 1906: 147, repro.
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.
Osborn, Max. Die Kunst des Rokoko. Berlin, 1929: repro. 227, 614.
Réau, Louis. Fragonard: sa vie et son oeuvre. Brussels, 1956: 171.
Wildenstein, Georges. The Paintings of Fragonard. New York, 1960: no. 391, repro.
Cairns, Huntington, and John Walker, eds., Treasures from the National Gallery of Art, New York, 1962: 112, color repro.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1963 (reprinted 1964 in French, German, and Spanish): 214, repro.
Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 52
Boucher, François. Fragonard. Paris, 1966: XII, repro.
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.
European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 44, repro.
Walker, John. Self Portrait with Donors. Boston & Toronto, 1969:45-46, repro.
Cott, Perry B."The Ailsa Mellon Bruce Gifts." The Connoisseur 178 (Dcember 1971): 256-257, repro.
Mandel, Gabriele. L'Opera completa di Fragonard. Milan, 1972: no. 419, repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 132, repro.
King, Marian. Adventures in Art: National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. New York, 1978: 64, pl. 37.
Watson, Ross. The National Gallery of Art, Washington. New York, 1979: 87, pl. 75.
Wilson, Michael. Eighteenth-Century French Painting. Oxford, 1979:8, repro. pl. 35
Norton, Thomas E. 100 Years of Collecting. New York, 1984:174, repro.
Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 336, no. 451, color repro.
European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 160, repro.
Cuzin, Jean-Pierre. "Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Vie et oeuvre." Fribourg, 1987. English edition New York, 1988: 117, 120, 294, no. 179, repro. pl. 143.
Lévêque, Jean-Jacques, La vie et l'oeuvre de Jean Honoré Fragonard. Paris, 1987:72-73, repro.
Rosenberg, Pierre. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Fragonard. Paris, 1989: 93, no. 201, repro.
Kopper, Philip. America's National Gallery of Art: A Gift to the Nation. New York, 1991: 259, color repro.
National Gallery of Art, Washington. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1992: 173, repro.
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.
Acton, Mary. Learning to Look at Paintings. London, 1997: 10-12, fig. 3.
Faxon, Alicia Craig. "Reading." In Encyclopedia of Comparative Iconography. 2 vols. Edited by Helene E. Roberts. Chicago and London, 1998: 2:768.
Zuffi, Stefano and Francesca Castria, La peinture baroque. Translated from Italian by Silvia Bonucci and Claude Sophie Mazéas. Paris, 1999: 317, color repro.
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.
Eco, Umberto. Storia della bellezza. Milan, 2004: 275 (color detail), 277, color repro. (English ed. New York, 2004: 275, 277, color repros.
Hand, John Oliver. National Gallery of Art: Master Paintings from the Collection. Washington and New York, 2004: 255, no. 207, color 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: 60 (repro. no. 61), 73 (not in the exhibition).
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.
Cooper, Harry. The Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Collection: Selected Works. Exh. cat. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., 2009: 6-7.
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.
Percival, Melissa. Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure: Painting the Imagination. Burlington, Vt., 2012: viii, 23, 26, 29, 149-150 , color pl. 14.
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.
Dupuy-Vachey, Marie-Anne. "Fragonard's 'fantasy figures': prelude to a new understanding." The Burlington Magazine 157 (April 2015): 241-247, figs. 8, 12.
Goulemot, Jean M. Le petit dictionnaire: Fragonard, en 16 plaisirs. Paris, 2015: 51-52, color repro.
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.
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.
Jackall, Yuriko and John Delaney. "Fragonard's Fantasy Figures." National Gallery of Art Bulletin 56 (Spring 2017): 36-37, repro.
Lajer-Burcharth, Eva. ""Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures." Exhibition review. Artforum 56, no. 4 (December 2017): 185, color repro.
Rand, Richard. "Frangonard's Fantasy Figures." Exhibition review. Burlington 159, no. 1,377 (December 2017): 1,020, 1,021, color fig. 28.
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.