Ahh…today I meet an old friend – the very first painting to steal my heart decades ago. I am looking forward to learning more about Fragonard’s ‘Young Girl Reading’, and especially studying the details enlarged. 🙂
Description: ‘A Young Girl Reading’
The Rococo painting by French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard (c.1770) features an unidentified young woman wearing a rich, saffron-yellow dress with glowing, white ruff, collar, and cuffs; lavender ribbons accent her bodice, neck and hair. Shown in profile, she is reading from a small book with reddish gilt edging held in her right hand, sitting with her left arm on a wooden rail and her back supported by a large and fluffy lilac cushion resting against a wall.
The young woman’s shiny brown hair with reddish-gold glints is carefully tied in a smooth chignon using a multi-toned, lilac silk ribbon. Her face and dress are softly illuminated from the front, casting a faint shadow on the wall behind her. The young woman seems completely absorbed in her reading and does not acknowledge onlookers. Google Arts and Culture describes the scene further:
She is resting on fluffy pillows rendered in warm brown tones and highlighted in light purple. Each texture is rendered in a different brushstroke: her dress a thick weave of yellow and white, the pillows more loosely sketched, and her collar edged with the handle of the brush. Quote from Google Arts and Culture
Rococo Color Scheme Conveys Emotion
In Young Girl Reading, color helps convey emotion and mood. Fragonard uses a typical Rococo color scheme, which consisted of soft, delicate colors and hues of gold. The pillow’s violet tint, the darker-toned walls and armrest, and the girl’s rosy-toned skin and bright, saffron-yellow dress help create the illusion of warmth and joy, and a sense of sensuality.
The girl’s dress and cushion are painted with quick and fluid strokes, in broad unblended bands of startling color: saffron, lilac, and magenta. Her fingers are defined by mere swerves of the brush. Using the wooden tip of a brush, (National Gallery of Art)
Technique, Texture and “Swordplay”
Texture is created through Fragonard’s loose, but energetic and gestural brushstrokes. For example, texture helps accentuate the frills in the dress, which highlights her soft curves. Likewise, texture, which is varied between the different layers of the painting, also helps create depth. For instance, the walls, the dress, and the armrest all have unique textures created through various styles of brushstrokes.
National Gallery of Art describes Fragonard’s brushwork further:
Fragonard scratched her ruffed collar into the surface of the paint. This is the “swordplay of the brush” that Fragonard’s contemporaries described, not always with universal approval. His spontaneous brushwork, rather than the subject, becomes the focus of the painting. Fragonard explored the point at which a simple trace of paint becomes a recognizable form, dissolving academic distinctions between a sketch and finished painting. (National Gallery of Art)
Not Portraits, But “Evocations”
By the mid-1760’s, the frivolous and excessive Rococo style falls into disfavor, destined to be replaced by the ideals of Neoclassicism. Young Girl Reading, however, is a favorite even among Fragonard’s critics due its inherent charm and joyful mood. Fragonard returns to the theme of capturing young girls in quiet solitude several times, but National Gallery of Art writes that these “are not portraits but evocations, similar to the “fantasy portraits”. They continue:
Fragonard made [fantasy portraits] of acquaintances as personifications of poetry and music. He painted these very quickly—in an hour, according to friends—using bold, energetic strokes. ‘A Young Girl Reading’ is painted over such a fantasy portrait and shares its brilliant technique. (National Gallery of Art)
Fragonard’s Young Girl Reading is more similar to a genre painting than to a portrait, and the name of the sitter is not known. Recent scholarship suggests that Young Girl Reading is one in a series of quickly executed paintings by Fragonard known as figures defantaisie portraying Fragonard’s models as personifications of poetry and music. With its emphasis on fleeting moments of beauty, sudden impressions, and pleasure, this painting heralds the Impressionism of the coming century.
At the same time,
Perhaps more than the work of his two teachers, Boucher and Chardin, Jean-Honoré Fragonard‘s bravura handling of brushwork and color embodies eighteenth-century painting aesthetics. (Google Arts and Culture)
Click for Enlarged Detail:
- Title: Young Girl Reading
- Creator: Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732 – 1806)
- French, late Rococo
- Date Created: c. 1770
- Medium: oil on canvas
- Object Credit: Gift of Mrs. Mellon Bruce in memory of her father, Andrew W. Mellon
- Dimensions: overall: 81.1 x 64.8 cm (31 15/16 x 25 1/2 in.)framed: 104.9 x 89.5 x 2.2 cm (41 5/16 x 35 1/4 x 7/8 in.)
- External Link: For more information about this and thousands of other works of art in the NGA collection, please visit http://www.nga.gov/
- Google Arts and Culture, Young Girl Reading, https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/young-girl-reading/JgFJCH9wxBktkg (accessed 8 Dec 2018).
“Jean Honoré Fragonard/Young Girl Reading/c. 1769,” Focus Section – French Paintings of the Eighteenth Century, NGA Online Editions, https://purl.org/nga/collection/artobject/46303 (accessed December 08, 2018).
- Wikipedia contributors, “A Young Girl Reading,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=A_Young_Girl_Reading&oldid=865530477 (accessed December 8, 2018).
- Young Girl Reading: A Hidden Portrait Revealed
- Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures
- Sketches of Portraits: The Fantasy Figures Identified
- Mapping the Fantasy Figures
- Fragonard’s Biography, Style and Artworks
- Fragonard Biography at Project Gutenberg (for youth, but suitable for all ages)
- 18th-Century France — Boucher and Fragonard
Thanks for Reading! 🙂