Young Girl Reading: A Hidden Portrait Revealed
A question long posed of this painting has been, “Does it represent one of Fragonard’s fantasy figures?” Its dimensions, palette, and energetic brushwork conform to those of the known works in the group, as does the girl’s pseudo-Spanish costume with its elaborate ruff collar. Yet the other fantasy figures assume dramatic poses and turn their faces to meet the viewer’s gaze, whereas the girl in the Gallery’s painting is shown in quiet repose, turned in profile, enraptured by her book, oblivious to viewers. Recent technical studies and the discovery of the related drawing provide some answers.
In 1985 Gallery conservators
A photographic or digital image analysis method that visually records an object's ability to absorb or transmit x-rays. The differential absorption pattern is useful for examining an object's internal structure as well as for comparing the variation in pigment types.
Fragonard’s Sketches of Portraits includes a drawing that closely resembles
In 2012–2013 a team of researchers at the Gallery used more sophisticated imaging techniques to gain a clearer view of the underlying portrait. This x-ray fluorescence (XRF) image reveals that it indeed depicted a woman. In addition, it became clear that this former figure wore a large feathered headdress. The solid black lines indicate tears in the canvas that were repaired at an unknown date.
This overlay of details from an x-radiograph and a hyperspectral
A photographic or digital image analysis method which captures the absorption/emission characteristics of reflected infrared radiation. The absorption of infrared wavelengths varies for different pigments, so the resultant image can help distinguish the pigments that have been used in the painting or underdrawing.
Why did Fragonard repaint this portrait? On Sketches of Portraits, the artist inscribed names below every portrait except this one. Perhaps the sitter or patron rejected the painting and Fragonard repainted it for the art market, turning a portrait of a specific individual into a general scene from daily life that might appeal to any prospective buyer.