Work The Wrapped-up Cat
Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century
Le Chat emmailloté
RMN-Grand Palais - Photo J.-G. Berizzi
Prints and Drawings
This drawing is an example of one aspect of Fragonard's highly varied oeuvre: childhood scenes. The artist's humor and sense of observation make this a particularly pleasing version of a subject that he also painted. Shown in Paris in 1779, the canvas has since been lost, but the drawing and an engraving he made with Marguerite Gérard help preserve its memory.
Fragonard, painter and father
Under the light touches of brown wash, the black chalk sketch shows through clearly: a few fine, supple lines thrown onto the page have sufficed to establish a composition in which a child leans against a column, holding in his arms a cat he has wrapped up as if it were a doll. The cat's pose - eyes closed, legs stretched out stiffly - speaks volumes about its discomfort and discomfiture as two dogs prowl nearby. Emerging from behind the column, a second child seems to be enjoying the scene enormously. Fragonard had two children, Rosalie and Evariste (later a famous painter in his own right), and may have drawn on their games for this humorous scene.
Master and pupil
This drawing is dated to late 1777 or the very beginning of 1778, and must have been used for the extremely rare etching bearing the caption "first plate by Mademoiselle Gérard, aged 16. 1778." Born on January 24, 1761, Marguerite Gérard was Fragonard's sister-in-law; sixteen years younger than Marie-Anne, the artist's wife, Marguerite joined the couple in Paris around 1775. She was the only pupil Fragonard ever had and probably executed some of her youthful works with the master, the etching after the Wrapped-up Cat being doubtless among them. At the Salon de la Correspondance in the following year, Fragonard showed a painting whose description tallies perfectly with the subject of this drawing. The canvas was much appreciated by the critics, who admired "the sheer beauty of the colors, in the lively Rubens manner."
Fragonard, painter of childhood
Children were dear to Fragonard's heart, and he often took them as subjects for his drawings and paintings. This example reveals an acute sense of observation allied to a real understanding of his models and their postures. The tenderness and, even more so, the humor that permeate these works set him apart from his contemporaries: we are a long way from de Greuze and his moralizing. There is another Fragonard drawing in the Louvre, in red chalk, of a child sitting on a chair with a cat curled up by his feet.
BibliographyAlexandre Ananoff, L'Oeuvre dessiné de Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), Paris, I, 1961, II, 1963, plate 15.
Pierre Rosenberg, Exhibition Catalogue: Fragonard, Paris, Grand-Palais, New York, Metropolitan Museum, 1987-1988, plate 239
Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Fragonard - Cabinet des dessins, Paris-Milan, 2003, no. 30
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Grasse, 1732-Paris, 1806)
The Wrapped-up Cat
Sepia wash over black chalk line drawing
H. 45.4 cm; W. 34.5 cm
Collection of Saint-Morys - Collection of Hippolyte Walferdin; sale, Paris, April 12-16, 1880, no. 157 - Collection of Baron E. de Rothschild - Collection of M. de Goldschmidt-Rothschild - Collection of Baron M. de Rothschild - Donated 1990
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