Jean-Honore Fragonard, referred to most often by his last name, was one of the foremost painters in France
during the Rococo
Born in Grasse, Provence in 1732, he quickly became interested in art and, at the age of 18, began studying under Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin.
Soon after, Fragonard begins studying instead under Francois Boucher, another of the foremost French Rococo painters, and takes up residence in Paris.
While studying under him, Fragonard picks up several of Boucher’s techniques which were hallmarks of Rococo period painting: pastel colours, pale skin with rosy highlights, slender fingers and slender toes, and an aristocratic, plump look to all figures.
Fragonard also takes after Boucher’s use of techniques borrowed from Peter Paul Rubens, the Flemish grand master who lived from 1577 to 1640. He, however, became a much more blatant Rubeniste than Boucher, echoing the almost rushed, messy brush strokes typical of the high style of Ruben, visible in his paintings from circa 1620.
In 1752, Fragonard wins the Prix de Rome, and begins learning under a new master, Carole van Loos.
Soon after, in 1756, Fragonard moves to Rome and studies at the Academie de France. It is during this five year stay in Italy that he becomes acquainted with Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, an 18th century painter of great acclaim who lived in Rome.
The beginning of the end for Fragonard started around this time. Emulating Tiepolo, his works start to become less in the Rubeniste style, instead becoming more tight and controlled – though still possessing a dynamic sense of movement, and still holding moderately onto the energetic brush stroke-style of Ruben.
Fragonard stands on the edge of his long fall for another whopping twenty seven years, having passed his golden years in the mid 1750s. During this period of time, in 1733, Fragonard takes a long tour of Europe, traveling back to Italy, from there to Venice, and later, Germany.
After returning to Paris from his lengthy trip, Fragonard marries Marie Anne Gerard. They have no children.
The year 1789 finally arrives, and the French Revolution takes France by storm and leaves Fragonard devoid of his patrons and virtually penniless. The Rococo style – considered the last breathe of French royalty – became shunned, and Classicism quickly becomes the preferred style, championed by Jean-Louis David.
By 1793, Fragonard is virtually decrepit. Refusing to conform to Classicism, he is left without any means of supporting himself. David, out of the goodness of his heart, and in recognition of Fragonard’s skill (despite an grave dislike of his preferred style), offers the failing artist a curatorship.
He gladly takes the position, but is relinquished of his position in 1797, after which he leads a simple, hard life, producing few paintings.
Fragonard lived through the last sighing breathe of French aristocracy, left afterwards with nothing. He died in 1806 in Paris. His death went virtually unnoticed, as he had long since passed into forgotten news.
Some of Fragonard’s most famous works include “The Swing” (c. 1767), and “Storming the Citadel” (c. 1750.)
His “Bathers” (c. 1765) is a prime example of his Rubeniste style.
Fragonard painted hundreds upon hundreds of paintings in his career; few of them are dated.