Van Gogh •
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Jean-Honoré Fragonard was born in Provence, in the town of Grasse. At the age of eighteen, he left home for Paris where he studied with
Boucher and possibly with Chardin. He was awarded the Prix de Rome in 1752, but continued to study with Vanloo and Lépicié before going to Rome in 1756. In 1759, Fragonard and his contemporary, Hubert Robert, were invited to accompany the Abbé de Saint-Non on a trip to southern Italy and Sicily. The two young men, each strongly influencing the other, sketched and painted archaeological scenes, landscapes, and religious and genre works, all on a small scale. During the trip Fragonard had the opportunity to study the richly colored and highly lit works of the Neapolitan painters and, returning to Paris by way of Venice, also studied his Venetian contemporaries and the works of older Venetian, Dutch, and Flemish masters, some of whose works he copied. Upon his return to France in 1761 Fragonard was admitted to the Academy because of a painting more classical in subject matter than in execution. Then, in 1765, he gave up historical and religious paintings to work in the style for which he is best known, painting landscapes and interiors peopled with enchanting young lovers, cupids, and Venuses, in a refreshingly light atmosphere of pure joie de vivre.
Among his most famous patrons were Madame de Pompadour, the financier Bergeret (who accompanied him to Italy again in 1773), and
Madame du Barry, for whom he painted the great panels of "Progress in Love", now in the Frick Museum in New York. Du Barry refused the completed works and Fragonard kept them in his own home, taking them with him to Grasse when he fled the horrors of the Revolution in 1790. The artist returned to Paris where he had already received official recognition and was made a member of the Jury of Arts and named to a post in the newly created Louvre Museum. He had, however, outlived his period. The sober thought of the revolutionary era, as represented in the painting of David, could not include Fragonard. He was ousted from his Louvre apartment in 1806 and deprived of his pension. He died in poverty during the same year.
One of the most brilliantly original French painters of the late eighteenth century, Fragonard painted with a spontaneity and a fluidity of technique that recall Rubens. His imagination, delicate wit, and refinement combined to create volatile poetic canvases that present the best aspects of the period of Louis XVI.