Jean-Honoré Fragonard

Three Putti crowned with flowers amongst clouds

Jean-Honoré Fragonard
( Grasse, 1732 - Paris, 1806 )

Circa 1753 Oil on canvas 82x73.5 cm We are grateful to Alastair Laing and Pierre Rosenberg for independently confirming the attribution upon viewing the original. The painting has also been seen by Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey, who is currently working on the catalogue raisonné of Fragonard drawings.

Most probably painted for Pierre Jombert, Paris. Possibly Jombert Sale, Paris, 15th April 1776, n. 42 as : “Un plafond peint par J-H. Fragonard : il est compose d’ornements d’architecture avec des enfants tenant des guirlandes de fleurs”, 81 x 65 cm, sold for 47 livres 19 sols. François Marcille (Orléans 1790 – 1856 Paris) By descent Camille Constantine Marcille (Chartres 1816 – 1875 Paris), Conservator of the Musée de Chartres. Camille Marcille Sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, M. Pillet (Paul de Saint-Victor, expert), 6th March 1876, n. 28, sold for 5.250 francs to M. Verdé-Delisle. By descent, Jean Verdé-Delisle Collection, Paris. Verdé-Delisle Collection, Paris until 2012.

Exposition d’oeuvres de J.-H. Fragonard, Musée du Louvre, Paris, 1921, n. 1 p. 17, plate I. (Catalogue by Georges Wildenstein)

P. de Saint-Victor, Introduction du catalogue de la vente Camille Marcille, Paris, 1876, n. 28, pp. 12-13, pl. V. ; R. Portalis, Honoré Fragonard, sa vie, son oeuvre, Paris, 1889, p. 278 (as in the collection of M. Verdé-Delisle) ; H. Mireur, Dictionnaire des Ventes d’Art faites en France et à l’Etranger pendant les XVIIIe et XIX siècles, Paris, 1911, vol. III, p. 193 ; G. Wildenstein, Exposition d’oeuvres de J.-H. Fragonard, exh. Cat., Paris, 1921, n. 1, p. 17, pl. 1.

During the 1750s when the young Fragonard worked as an assistant in François Boucher’s workshop, he participated in the execution of many decorative paintings that were installed above doorways that were then fashionable in Parisian townhouses. These decorations were often set in celestial scenes of calm, depicting voluptuous female nudes as mythological or allegorical subjects, or flying putti such as in the present painting. These were usually linked with traditional allegorical themes, such as the Times of the Day or the Four Seasons.

The Putti here are beautifully rendered while the colours are subtly modulated with plays of light and shade. The gold of the curled hair and the pale translucent skin of the putti, together with the light blue palette of the sky are almost palpably joyful and perfectly fit the Rococo tradition of sensitivity to a lighter palette and softer form. Paul de Saint-Victor’s poetically described the picture in his introduction to the catalogue of the Marcille sale : “La Fuite à dessein... et le Groupe d’enfants noyé et comme pétri dans la lumière de Rubens ... Le marteau des enchères va bientôt disperser ce beau cabinet, mais son souvenir survivra à sa dispersion. A chacun des tableaux...le nom de Marcille imprimera ce fin signe de goût, cette marque d’originalité et de qualité qui ajoute à la valeur du morceau la distinction de la provenance.”

One of the most prolific artists active in the last decades of the Ancien Régime, Fragonard produced more than 550 paintings of which only five are dated. Among his most popular works are genre paintings conveying an atmosphere of intimacy and veiled eroticism such as in the present painting.