This early masterpiece by Jean-Honoré Fragonard demonstrates his brilliant command — even at the beginning of his career — of the rococo pictorial idiom that was in its ascendancy in the 1750s and that he had absorbed through his close relationship with
With its pendant, Aurora (sometimes called Venus Awakening)
The two paintings were reunited in the exhibition The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David (New York and Fort Worth, 1992), nos. 59, 60.
For example, the four Allegory of the Arts (Pierre Rosenberg, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Fragonard [Paris, 1989], nos. 4 – 7) painted for Bergeret de Grancourt’s house in the rue du Temple, and the cycle of the Four Seasons (Pierre Rosenberg, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Fragonard [Paris, 1989], nos. 15 – 18), painted for the Hôtel Matignon.
Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Fragonard, Life and Work (New York, 1988; French ed. Paris, 1987), 39, remarks that in Aurora Fragonard “arranges the figures in a somewhat scholarly way according to the diagonals of the canvas”; see also Bailey’s discussion in The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David (New York and Fort Worth, 1992), 482.
Besides complementing each other compositionally, Fragonard’s two paintings are related in their themes. Aurora, ushering in the new day, provides the counterpart to Diana and Endymion, which symbolizes night. Entranced by the shepherd’s beauty, the goddess Diana visits him one night as he sleeps. She steals a kiss, causing him to fall in love with her; their liaison angers Jupiter, who offers Endymion a choice between instant death and a perpetual slumber that will always preserve his youth. The iconology of the subject is complex,
For a full discussion, see Judith Colton, “The Endymion Myth and Poussin’s Detroit Painting,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 30 (1967): 426 – 431.
The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David (New York and Fort Worth, 1992), 479.
I think he’s very good-looking, Aphrodite [says Selene], especially when he sleeps with his cloak under him on the rock, with his javelins just slipping out of his left hand as he holds them, and his right hand bent upwards round his head and framing his face makes a charming picture, while he’s relaxed in sleep and breathing in the sweetest way imaginable. Then I creep down quietly on tip-toe, so as not to waken him and give him a fright, and then — but you can guess; there’s no need to tell you what happens next. You must remember I’m dying of love.
M. D. Macleod, trans., Lucian (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1961), 7:331.
The appearance of Cupid in Fragonard’s painting alludes to an earlier part of the exchange, when Aphrodite asks why Selene frequently descends from the sky to gaze upon Endymion. She replies, “Ask your own son, Aphrodite; it’s his fault.”
M. D. Macleod, trans., Lucian (Cambridge, Mass., and London, 1961), 7:329.
When it entered the National Gallery of Art in 1960, Diana and Endymion carried an attribution to Boucher, Fragonard’s first teacher. Boucher’s name had been associated with the painting since at least the late nineteenth century, when it was in the collection of Sir Richard Wallace in Paris.
John Ingamells, The Wallace Collection: Catalogue of Pictures, vol. 3 (London, 1989), 384, no. 16.
Wintermute in Colin Bailey, et al., The First Painters of the King (New York, 1985), 137, called the painting an “early Fragonard?” Jean-Pierre Cuzin, “Fragonard dans les musées français: quelques tableaux reconsidérés ou discutés,” Revue du Louvre et des Musées de France 36, no. 1 (1986): 65 – 66, noted the similarity between the sheep with its back turned to a similar one in Fragonard’s oil sketch of Saint John the Baptist (Pierre Rosenberg, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Fragonard [Paris, 1989], no. 25), datable to the same years. The painting was subsequently published as a Fragonard by Rosenberg in Pierre Rosenberg, Fragonard (Paris, 1987), 34, fig. 6, and Pierre Rosenberg, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Fragonard (Paris, 1989), no. 28. In 1991, Bailey reunited it with its pendant in The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David (New York and Fort Worth, 1992), no. 60. Unpublished opinions by Philip Conisbee and Alastair Laing confirming the attribution to Fragonard are in the NGA curatorial files.
When it appeared in an anonymous sale on March 20, 1773, lot 23, it was described as “Belle composition où on trouve le faire de Lemoyne,” a reference to Boucher’s teacher (see Alexandre Ananoff with Daniel Wildenstein, François Boucher [Lausanne and Paris, 1976], 1:73, no. 36, who confused the early provenance of Fragonard’s Diana and Endymion with that of the Boucher).
The pose of Boucher’s Endymion appears drawn from the figure of the dead Christ in Michelangelo’s Pietà, which might argue for a date in the early 1730s, shortly after Boucher’s return from Rome (see Alastair Laing, François Boucher (1703 – 1770) [New York, 1986], 17).
Once the true authorship of the Washington painting is recognized and it is reunited with its pendant, Aurora, the two paintings fit comfortably with several works Fragonard produced while a student in Paris before his departure for Rome in 1756. For example, the combination of two mythological characters in decorative compositions clearly intended as overdoors and of similar style, color, and elegiac mood had already been employed in a pair of paintings produced around 1755: Jupiter and Callisto and Cephalus and Procris (Angers, Musée des Beaux-Arts). These two works had also been attributed at one time to Boucher.
Pierre Rosenberg, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Fragonard (Paris, 1989), nos. 10 – 11. See also Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Fragonard, Life and Work (New York, 1988; French ed. Paris, 1987), 37 – 39, figs. 39, 40; The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David (New York and Fort Worth, 1992), nos. 57, 58.
Pierre Rosenberg, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Fragonard (Paris, 1989), no. 26; Pierre Rosenberg, Fragonard (Paris, 1987), no. 9; Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Fragonard, Life and Work (New York, 1988; French ed. Paris, 1987), 19 – 22.
Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Fragonard, Life and Work (New York, 1988; French ed. Paris, 1987), 37, 38, dates them more precisely to c. 1755 – 1756, comparing them to Boucher’s Aminta Returning to Life in the Arms of Sylvia, painted for the Hôtel de Toulouse, Paris, during those years, a dating followed by Bailey, in The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David (New York and Fort Worth, 1992), 482, although Pierre Rosenberg, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Fragonard (Paris, 1989), 74, dates them to “1754?”
The evolution of Fragonard’s early career has been the subject of debate. As Bailey has discussed, Boucher clearly continued to exert an important influence on his former protégé, even during the years Fragonard was attending classes at the Ecole des élèves protégés.
The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David (New York and Fort Worth, 1992), 482.
Georges Wildenstein, The Paintings of Fragonard: Complete Edition (New York, 1960), 1 –5. Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Fragonard, Life and Work (New York, 1988; French ed. Paris, 1987), has questioned whether many of these pictures could not have been produced during the years Fragonard was at the Ecole des élèves protégés.
See the relevant discussion by Bailey in The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David (New York and Fort Worth, 1992), 474 – 475, 482, where he compares Diana and Endymion and its pendant to Boucher’s grand paintings for Pompadour, The Rising of the Sun and The Setting of the Sun.
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), 151–156.
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
Sir Richard Wallace, 1st bt. [1818-1890], London and Paris, by 1883; by inheritance to his wife, Lady Julie-Amélie-Charlotte Castelnau Wallace [1819-1897], London and Paris; by inheritance to her secretary and legatee, Sir John Murray Scott [1847-1912], Paris; by inheritance to his friend, Josephine Victoria Sackville-West, Lady Sackville [1864-1936], Sevenoaks, Kent [painting remained in Paris during this time]; sold 1913 to (Jacques Seligmann and Co., Inc., Paris and New York, no. 579 of Seligmann inventory); sold 1914 to (M. Knoedler & Co., London, New York, and Paris); sold March 1922 to John McCormack [1884-1945], New York; (M. Knoedler & Co., London, New York, and Paris); sold 1924 to William R. Timken [1866-1949], New York; by inheritance to his widow, Lillian Guyer Timken [1881-1959] New York; bequest 1960 to NGA.
- L'Art du XVIIIe siècle, Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 1883-1884, no. 7, as by Boucher.
- Loan Exhibition of Paintings by Old Masters, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, 1920, no. 90, repro., as by Boucher.
- Loan for display with permanent collection, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, 1966-1981, as by Boucher.
- The Loves of the Gods: Mythological Painting from Watteau to David, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, Paris; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Kimbell Art Musuem, Fort Worth, 1991-1992, no. 60, repro.
- Soullié, Louis, and Charles Masson. Catalogue raisonné de l'oeuvre peint et dessiné de François Boucher. Paris, 1906: no. 124 (published as a supplement to André Michel, François Boucher, Paris, 1906).
- Summary Catalogue of European Paintings and Sculpture. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1965: 18, as Boucher
- European Paintings and Sculpture, Illustrations. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1968: 11, repro., as Boucher
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Summary Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1975: 40, repro., as Boucher
- Ananoff, Alexandre, with Daniel Wildenstein. L'opera completa di Boucher. Milan, 1980: no. 36.
- Walker, John. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Rev. ed. New York, 1984: 334, no. 447, color repro., as by François Boucher.
- European Paintings: An Illustrated Catalogue. National Gallery of Art, Washington, 1985: 59, repro., as Boucher
- The First Painters of the King. Exh. cat. Stair Sainty Matthiesen, New York; New Orleans Museum of Art; Columbus Museum of Art, 1985:137
- Cuzin, Jean-Pierre. "Fragonard dans les musées français." Revue du Louvre (1986):58+, n. 6
- Cabanne, Pierre. Fragonard. Paris, 1987:19
- Rosenberg, Pierre. Fragonard. Exh. Cat. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 1987:34, repro.
- Cuzin, Jean-Pierre. Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Paris,1988:39, repro.
- Rosenberg, Pierre. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Fragonard. Paris, 1989:28
- 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: 214, fig. 80a (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. 29, 151-156, color repro.
- Goulemot, Jean M. Le petit dictionnaire: Fragonard, en 16 plaisirs. Paris, 2015: 76-77, color repro.
The support is a fine-weight, plain-weave fabric. The tacking margins have been removed, and the painting has been double-lined. There is a vertical seam in the original fabric approximately 24 cm from the left edge. The painting’s original shape was changed radically during an early conservation treatment. The X-radiographs indicate that four fabric inserts were added to the painting to change it from a curvilinear, scalloped shape to a rectangular format. There is almost no sign of cusping along the edges of the original fabric, indicating that the painting may have been larger at one time.
The ground consists of a smooth, white layer that partially conceals the fabric texture. The artist used a wet-into-wet technique to apply the paint as a generally thin, fluid paste with no impasto. There are no obvious pentimenti, but the X-radiographs reveal that the position of Diana’s head was changed and that Endymion’s staff originally was longer. The X-radiographs also indicate that slight adjustments were made to the position of Endymion’s legs and to the right horn of the moon.
The painting is in good condition. The joins and seams between all the fabric pieces are slightly raised, and weave interference from the lining fabric is visible on the surface. There is a large U-shaped tear in the sky in the upper left quadrant and a smaller tear in the lower left corner. Both tears have been mended. Numerous small losses to the ground and paint are scattered throughout the painting. It was treated in 1982 to remove discolored varnish, and the varnish and inpainting applied at that time have not discolored.