Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Young Girl Reading (1770)

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. 🙂

Fragonard2C_The_Reader
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French, 1732 – 1806, Young Girl Reading, c. 1770, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Mellon Bruce in memory of her father, Andrew W. Mellon, 1961.16.1 National Gallery of Art, Image Source: wikipedia

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

3Screenshot_2018-11-19 Young Girl Reading - Jean-Honoré Fragonard - Google Arts Culture
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French, 1732 – 1806, Young Girl Reading, c. 1770, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Mellon Bruce in memory of her father, Andrew W. Mellon, 1961.16.1 National Gallery of Art, Image Source: Google Arts and Culture  (detail)

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)

8Screenshot_2018-11-19 Young Girl Reading - Jean-Honoré Fragonard - Google Arts Culture
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French, 1732 – 1806, Young Girl Reading, c. 1770, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Mellon Bruce in memory of her father, Andrew W. Mellon, 1961.16.1 National Gallery of Art, Image Source: Google Arts and Culture, (detail).

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)

10Screenshot_2018-11-19 Young Girl Reading - Jean-Honoré Fragonard - Google Arts Culture
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French, 1732 – 1806, Young Girl Reading, c. 1770, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Mellon Bruce in memory of her father, Andrew W. Mellon, 1961.16.1 National Gallery of Art, Image Source: Google Arts and Culture  (detail)

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)

2Screenshot_2018-12-08 fscreenshot_2018-11-19-1screenshot_2018-11-19-young-girl-reading-jean-honorecc81-fragonard-google-art[...]
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French, 1732 – 1806, Young Girl Reading, c. 1770, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Mellon Bruce in memory of her father, Andrew W. Mellon, 1961.16.1 National Gallery of Art, Image Source: Google Arts and Culture, (detail).

In Summary

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)

 

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Thanks for Reading! 🙂

The End

7 Comments Add yours

  1. pirkkotervo says:

    Thank You for this great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate your kind encouragement, pirkkotervo! ❤️😎

      Like

  2. simplywendi says:

    I would love to know what book she is holding 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. A favorite painting of mine, too.

    Liked by 1 person

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