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Work Curiosity

Department of Paintings: French painting

Curiosity

© 2003 Musée du Louvre / Angèle Dequier

Paintings
French painting

Author(s):
Michèle Perny

This small painting on wood was one of the first works by Fragonard to enter the Louvre, in 1856, well before the more sensational works from the famous La Caze collection that were bequeathed to the museum in 1869. It was a little-known work that long escaped the attention of Fragonard specialists, partly because of its small size, but mostly because it was not put on display in the museum. The major interest of this little painting lies in its original mise-en-scène: through an interplay of gazes, the viewer is both observer and…observed.

A mirror effect

Two young girls look toward the viewer through a gap in the gray drapes that they are holding apart. The face on the right is only half visible; the bolder girl on the left is in clearer view. She wears a mischievous smile, and has slipped one arm through the drapes, preparing to throw a handful of rose petals that she has no doubt taken from the little basket on the right. A breast has been inadvertently revealed by the opened drapes. There is a particularly elegant use of color, with a subtle variation of muted pinks and dull reds embellished by the pearl gray and shimmering white of the drapes. The interplay of gazes in this little scene creates such a remarkable mirror effect that we wonder who has surprised whom…

A suggestive scene

The atmosphere in this scene recalls the painter's fondness for themes of this kind, that he treated in distinctive and spirited style. The symmetrical twist of the drapes discreetly echoes the tangled folds in the painting entitled The Bolt, in which they represent the whirlwind of desire. The ambiguous and somewhat erotic nature of the scene is heightened by the breast that seems to hold a promise of even greater youthful charms; the nonchalant and graceful hand suggests the kind of unbalanced pose that so often featured in the intimate scenes painted by this artist. The delicate yet emphatic brushwork, together with the pastel colors, expresses delight in the curves of flesh, the caress of petals, the swirl of fabric.

Fragonard and his contemporaries

The reputation for frivolity that is too often and too easily attributed to Fragonard should not eclipse the multiple facets of his talent. His oeuvre included religious painting, historic and mythological themes, allegories, portraits, great landscapes, and intimist scenes like this one. Yet he is the unquestioned representative of the French 18th century—the period that delighted in secret doors, stolen moments, intrigues, and ambiguity, when the theater intertwined with everyday life, backstage and forestage suddenly merging, the viewer finding himself both observer and observed. The highly evocative space confined by the drapes brings to mind the intimacy and elegance of the boudoir with its atmosphere of privacy and seclusion and its suggestion of eroticism...

Bibliography

- ROSENBERG Pierre, Fragonard , [exposition, Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand Palais, 24 septembre 1987 - 4 janvier 1988]  / textes : Pierre Rosenberg et Marie-Anne Dupuy  / Paris : Ed. de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1987

- ROSENBERG Pierre, Tout l’œuvre peint de Fragonard - Introduction et catalogue raisonné par Pierre Rosenberg. Les Classiques de l'art Paris : Flammarion, 1989

Fragonard, les plaisirs d’un siècle  [Exposition Musée Jacquemart André, Institut de France, du 3 octobre 2007 au 13 janvier 2008], GAND : Snoeck, 2007

- CUZIN Jean-Pierre,  SALMON Dimitri : Fragonard, regards croisés, p. 160-161, Paris : Mengès et la Réunion des musées nationaux, 2007

Technical description

  • Jean-Honoré FRAGONARD (Grasse, 1732 – Paris, 1806)

    Curiosity

    c. 1775-1780

  • Oil on canvas

    H. 16.5 cm; W. 12.5 cm

  • Gift of Charles Sauvageot (1781-1860) to the Louvre, 1856 (Cat. 1022)

    M.I. 860

  • Paintings

    Sully wing
    2nd floor
    Hubert Robert
    Room 49

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