Fragonard's Poetic Vision

On 18 June 2021, by Claire Papon

This vigorous watercolor from the beginning of the artist's stay in Rome has both rural and classical elements.

Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), La Terrasse (The Terrace), watercolor with gouache, pen and brown ink, traces of black pencil, 19.5 x 25.5 cm/7.7 x 10 in.
Estimate: €60,000/80,000

Did this landscape exist or did Jean-Honoré Fragonard invent it? The result is charming, at any rate, with oxen jostling each other to drink at a Roman marble sarcophagus transformed into a trough, peasants and gardeners at work, flowers and brambles growing here and there, a girl milking a cow, a ruin housing a stable, and a ladder carelessly placed on the ground. Above this scene, there is a classical, well-ordered park with an orange tree in a wooden planter and sculptures dotting the terraces. The upper part of the drawing returns to the foliage of the trees. This is Man and Nature in harmony. The work evokes a small group of washes from 1758 - 1760, including Parc d’une villa italienne (Park in an Italian Villa) now owned by Geneva collector Jean Bonna, and Scène dans un parc (Scene in a Park) in the Cleveland Museum.

Admitted to the French Academy in Rome in late 1756 by Charles-Joseph Natoire, Fragonard, initially somewhat at sea, soon found his models. He was helped with this by two decisive friendships with Hubert Robert, who had already been in the Eternal City for two years, and the Abbé de Saint-Non, a wealthy young art lover who arrived in 1759 and immediately conceived a boundless admiration for him, taking him to work in Tivoli. These five energetic years were among Fragonard's most productive, enabling him to enter Paris in September 1761 as an accomplished painter, with Saint-Non as his patron.

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