For years, portraits have been a way to display a person’s wealth, beauty or status. Portraits like Jan van Eyck’s Arnolfini Wedding Portrait was a way for the patron to show his wealth while he was away from home. This was the common standard for portraits for many years until artists began to add a more decorative quality to their artwork leading to a shift in how portraits were crafted. Jean Honore Fragonard took a wild approach to portraits. His portraits are loose, carefree and absurdly excessive. Fragonard does not intend for his audience to look at portraits and decipher the resemblance. He wished for his paintings to capture a sort of character. Fragonard’s portraits, especially A Woman with a Dog, are a playfully intriguing and imaginative approach to portraits. This exhibit is an exploration in fantasy portraits that display a careless, extravagant lifestyle with over-the-top decorations and an overall lighthearted feeling. Many of these portraits will appear as if the artist has captured an expression frozen in time inviting you to dive into a fantastical world of jovial swagger.
The Two Sisters
Artist: Jean Claude Richard, Abbé de Saint-Non (French, Paris 1727–1791 Paris)
Medium: Pastel on paper, laid down on canvas
Dimensions: 31 5/8 x 25 in. (80.3 x 63.5 cm)
Classification: Pastels & Oil Sketches on Paper
Accession Number: 1977.383
In this portrait, Richard takes an everyday scene of two girls playing with toys and turns it into a fantastical painting. His use of extravagant details and loose brushstroke create this kind of whimsical fantasy. The looseness of the brushstrokes offers a lot of movement ultimately making this piece look carefree and youthful. Although the expressions on the girl’s face are not the warmest, as opposed to A Woman with a Dog, its playful nature, inviting colors and exciting movement create a fantasy that invite viewers to join in.
The Love Letter
Artist: Jean Honoré Fragonard (French, Grasse 1732–1806 Paris)
Date: early 1770s
Medium: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 32 3/4 x 26 3/8 in. (83.2 x 67 cm)
Accession Number: 49.7.49
The Love Letter creates a fantasy in almost the same way A Woman with A Dog does. Painted by the same artist, both of these paintings have an expressionless dog next to a fancily dressed woman with a mysterious glance. The extreme detail included in the dress and the inclusion of the white fluffy dog gives the composition a sense of luxuriousness. Lastly, the use of yellows and browns gives the painting a golden glow adding warmth and playfulness to the painting. As a portrait, it is set apart from others because of her relaxed body position and expressive face. She is in action, therefore this is another example of movement frozen in time.
The Toilette of Venus
Medium:Oil on canvas
Dimensions:42 5/8 x 33 1/2 in. (108.3 x 85.1 cm)
This painting is less a portrait but shares similarities to fantasy portraits in the way it is painted and the subject matter. There are countless necklaces, jewels, rich fabrics and urns painted that scream wealth and luxury. While this painting is clearly a reference to mythology and not an actual portrait the expression on Venus is very similar to the expressions seen on the fantasy portraits. Venus is clearly very comfortable by the way she lounges on the sheet and lets Cupid stroke her hair. Life is very easy for Venus and she isn't living in a fantasy but she is a fantasy. I can imagine patrons at the time looking at this painting and wishing they could live like Venus. This explains why this painting of Venus is so similar to other fantasy portraits.
Jean Claude Richard, Abbot Of Saint Non
Dimensions: 80 x 65 cm
Location: Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
This painting is most noted for its loose brushstrokes that evoke a sense of carelessness. Much like A Woman with a Dog, the subject wears richly colored clothing with a large ruffled collar expressing wealth and frivolity. Lastly, the position and expression of his face is confident and amused. He appears to have no worries in his life and is completely content with his large ruffled collar and wind-swept clothing. Overall, this painting displays a character who is completely content with his charmed life.
Young Woman Playing With A Dog
Artist: Jean-Honore Fragonard
Dimensions: 87 x 87 cm
Location: Fondation Cailleux
This painting is by far the most carefree. The subject lies almost nude, immersed in an ocean of sheets while holding a dog above her feet. The loose quality of the brushstrokes and lack of straight lines give off the illusion that she is floating on a cloud. Furthermore, her white skin, white dress and surrounding sheets gives her an angelic quality. She’s like an angel floating on a cloud - very whimsical, light and carefree.