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Jean-Honoré Fragonard

French Painter

Jean-Honoré Fragonard Photo
Movement: The Rococo

Born: April 4, 1732 - Grasse, France

Died: August 22, 1806 - Paris, France

"I paint with my backside."

Jean-Honore Fragonard Signature

Summary of Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Fragonard's work is at once emblematic of the 18th century and singular, elevating popular genre scenes to meditations on French society through careful use of symbols and lavish brushwork. The painter's reputation rests on his love scenes, which hold great density of meaning, and for his use of light and color to transform both subjects and surrounding environments into showcases of virtuosity that capture emotions and reward extended examination. Fragonard's expressive brushstrokes, which lead figures and landscapes to dissolve into individual strokes when seen closely, had a strong influence on the Impressionists, while his themes have been picked up by 21st-century artists interested in gender, race and sexuality.

Key Ideas

Fragonard's work elevates erotic symbolism that would have been easily comprehended by his contemporaries, finessing this in such a way that his images provided multiple intellectual layers. He regularly used settings, activities and small details to heighten tension and encourage the viewer to consider relationships between men and women, humanity and nature, and the concept of time itself. Fragonard's use of such symbolism was unprecedented in its complexity and subtlety, providing intellectual weight that set his scenes apart from others working in similar modes.
Fragonard's use of setting was unique in the degree to which it heightened narrative drama. His compositions are often framed as if stages, with light used to direct the viewer's eye in such a way that the sequence of events becomes clear. Statuary and trees serve to convey mood, with stormy skies and windswept branches indicating unease or tension while placid backdrops suggest resolution.
Across Fragonard's work, the physicality of art making is itself on display; visual pleasure is an end in itself rather than a means of representation. Fragonard's application of paint is clearly visible on canvases, with long, fluid strokes indicating folds of clothing or rushing water alongside short, abrupt dashes conveying leaves and flowers. This is complemented by Fragonard's use of color and tone, with dramatic contrasts between light and shade. Examined at close range, the paintings abstract their subjects; in this way, Fragonard's work anticipates the attitude to painting that would dominate the late-19th and 20th centuries.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard Photo

Jean-Honoré Fragonard was born into a family of artisans and merchants in Grasse; his father was a glove maker. The family moved to Paris in 1738, when Fragonard was six, but little else is known about the artist's upbringing. He began to study art as a teenager after a failed apprenticeship to a notary.

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