Skip to Main Content

Release Date: July 11, 2017

Jean Honoré Fragonard Exhibition Unites Fantasy Figures and Newly Discovered Drawing at National Gallery of Art, October 8–December 3, 2017

Jean Honoré Fragonard, Young Girl Reading, c. 1769, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mrs. Mellon Bruce in memory of her father, Andrew W. Mellon

Jean Honoré Fragonard, Young Girl Reading, c. 1769, oil on canvas,
National Gallery of Art, Washington, Gift of Mrs. Mellon Bruce in memory of her father, Andrew W. Mellon

Washington, DC—Combining art, fashion, science, and conservation, the revelatory exhibition Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures brings together—for the first time—a newly discovered drawing by Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806) and some 14 of his paintings that have been identified with it including the National Gallery of Art's Young Girl Reading (c. 1769). Fragonard is considered among the most characteristic and important French painters of his era, and this series casts light on the development of his career, the identity of his sitters and patrons, and the significance of his innovative imagery. Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures and the fully illustrated catalog that accompanies it not only present new art-historical and scientific research into this series but also examine the 18th-century Parisian world in which these paintings were created. The exhibition may be seen only at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in the West Building, from October 8 through December 3, 2017.

Covered with 18 thumbnail-sized sketches and apparently annotated in the rococo artist's own hand, the drawing now known as Sketches of Portraits emerged at a Paris auction in 2012 and upended several long-held assumptions about the fantasy figures—a series of rapidly executed, brightly colored paintings of lavishly costumed individuals.

"The first exhibition to unite the fantasy figures with the recently discovered drawing focuses on this aspect of Fragonard's production in a powerful and intimate way," said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art, Washington. "We are grateful to the public and private collections, both here and abroad, that have generously lent to this exhibition, as well as to Lionel and Ariane Sauvage whose gift supported the catalog's publication."

Organization and Support

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.

The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.

Exhibition Highlights

Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures explores the many interpretations of this series in the context of the artist's career. Fragonard strove to create a specific portrait type that showcased the painterly skill for which he was renowned. The fantasy figures also enabled him to experiment and to refine his ideas of artistic reference and emulation. Created within the competitive atmosphere of the Parisian art world, these works were influenced by a range of events, artworks, and visitors to his studio.

The fantasy figures depict men and women posed at leisure or employed in various pursuits, such as acting, reading, writing, playing instruments, or singing. Wearing extravagant attire, these figures are dressed in what was known in 18th-century France as à l'espagnole (Spanish style)—plumed hats, slashed sleeves, ribbons, rosettes, ruffs, capes, and accents of red and black. Shaped by artistic imagination, these paintings pushed the boundaries of accepted figure painting at the time.

Exhibited for the first time is the newly discovered Sketches of Portraits (c. 1769), a thin sheet of paper with three rows of 18 small sketches—all but one are annotated with a name, 14 have been identified with one of Fragonard's painted fantasy figures, and four remain unknown. The emergence of Sketches of Portraits prompted a two-year investigation of Young Girl Reading, conducted as a collaborative effort by the Gallery's Yuriko Jackall, assistant curator of French paintings, John K. Delaney, senior imaging scientist, and Michael Swicklik, senior conservator of paintings. Published in the April 2015 issue of Burlington Magazine, the findings established Young Girl Reading as a part of the fantasy figure series and shed light upon Fragonard's approach to the ensemble as a whole.

Other works in the exhibition include the rarely lent, privately held portraits of the Harcourt brothers François-Henri, duc d'Harcourt (c. 1770) and Anne-François d'Harcourt, duc de Beuvron (c. 1770)—which are on view together for the first time since the 1987 exhibition Fragonard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Musée du Louvre—as well as The Vestal (c. 1769–1771), The Actor (c. 1769), and The Singer (c. 1769). Also on view is the Louvre's M. de La Bretèche (c. 1769), which depicts the wealthy brother of one of Fragonard's most devoted patrons, Jean-Claude Richard, abbé de Saint-Non.

Exhibition Curator

The exhibition is curated by Yuriko Jackall, assistant curator, department of French paintings, National Gallery of Art.

Related Activities

Lecture and Book Signing
An Introduction to the Exhibition—Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures
October 8, 2:00 p.m.
East Building Auditorium
Yuriko Jackall, assistant curator, department of French paintings, National Gallery of Art

Film Series
The Warrior, the Reader, the Writer: Fantasy Figures in French Period Film
November 25–December 1
East Building Auditorium
To complement the exhibition Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures, which brings together 14 paintings by rococo artist Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806) representing preening individuals in masquerade costume, each with an attribute of a different profession, this series presents three French films set in the 18th-century that convey a similar ethos. Character types as much as portraits, fantasy figures (in painting and film) offer viewpoints into different walks of life. Three of the most compelling paintings, including the Gallery’s own Young Girl Reading, provide the point of departure into this cinematic exploration of professional life in 18th-century France.

Fanfan la Tulipe
November 25, 3:30 p.m.
Fanfan la Tulipe features the fabled Gérard Philipe playing a warrior figure—"as bold as he is brave," according to Madame de Pompadour. As it happens, Fanfan is also a real rogue, but then he meets his match in Gina Lollobrigida’s gypsy. (Christian-Jaque, 1952, 35mm, subtitles, 102 minutes)

Farewell, My Queen
November 26, 4:00 p.m.
Farewell, My Queen is told from the perspective of Sidonie (Léa Seydoux), Marie Antoinette’s personal reader during the rocky final days of the French monarchy. Benoît Jacquot based his film on Chantal Thomas’s novel, with virtually all of the action occurring at Versailles. As the official reader, Sidonie selects books and then reads them aloud to the queen, affording her a privileged position as she moves about the court. (Benoît Jacquot, 2012, subtitles, 100 minutes)

Beaumarchais, l’insolent
December 1, 2:30 p.m.
Pierre Beaumarchais lived an extravagant life as a writer who also dabbled in music, politics, horticulture, and even watchmaking, but his fame is based on his comedies The Barber of Seville and The Marriage of Figaro. Adapted from a play by Sacha Guitry, Beaumarchais, l’insolent portrays him as a character who wangles his way into the capricious court of Louis XV. "One of the virtues of Molinaro’s film is that it dramatizes the lighter sides of its hero without losing sight of the serious"—Thomas E. Kaiser. (Édouard Molinaro, 1996, 35mm, subtitles, 96 minutes)

Fashion à la Figaro: Spanish Style on the French Stage
November 26, 2:00 p.m.
Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, fashion historian

New York Opera Society
November 26, 3:30 p.m.
West Building, East Garden Court
New York Opera Society performs The Three Lives of Rosina Almaviva

Exhibition Catalog and Shop

Celebrating this exhibition with a full suite of specialty items, the Gallery Shops are offering the 176-page, fully illustrated exhibition catalog, which includes an overview and technical examination by Yuriko Jackall with John K. Delaney and Michael Swicklik, all at the National Gallery of Art, and essays by Carole Blumenfeld, research associate at the Palais Fesch-Musée des Beaux-Arts d’Ajaccio; Kimberly Chrisman-Campbell, fashion historian; Jean-Pierre Cuzin, former director of the department of paintings at the Musée du Louvre, Paris; Elodie Kong, an art historian specializing in the collecting habits of financiers in 18th-century Paris; and Satish Padiyar, senior lecturer in 19th-century European art at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London. Other items include related books, customizable stationery, and other period-related gifts such as elegantly packaged soaps and lip balm. Items are available for purchase at special installations near the exhibition and in the West Building, Concourse, and East Building Shops;; (800) 697-9350 (phone); (202) 789-3047 (fax); or [email protected].

Online Content

Featured online for Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures are a map identifying the residences of the probable sitters as well as an in-depth look at the technical images revealing the original version of Young Girl Reading. An exploration of this painting on the Gallery’s website showcases updated object information.

Press Contact:
Laurie Tylec, (202) 842-6355 or [email protected]

General Information

For additional press information please call or send inquiries to:
Department of Communications
National Gallery of Art
2000 South Club Drive
Landover, MD 20785
phone: (202) 842-6353
e-mail: [email protected]
Anabeth Guthrie
Chief of Communications
(202) 842-6804
[email protected]

The Gallery also offers a broad range of newsletters for various interests. Follow this link to view the complete list.

Exhibition Press Release

Exhibition Checklist (PDF 158 kb)

Fragonard Conservation Press Release

Laurie Tylec
(202) 842-6355
[email protected]