‘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. (wikiwand)
Rococo Color Scheme
In Young Girl Reading, Fragonard uses a typical Rococo color scheme 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. (wikiwand)
“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.”National Gallery of Art
Technique, Texture and “Swordplay”
Texture is created through Fragonard’s loose, but energetic and gestural brushstrokes, accentuating the frills in the dress, which highlights her soft curves and create depth. The walls, the dress, and the armrest all have unique textures created through various styles of brushstrokes. (wikiwand)
“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.“National Gallery of Art
“The support was prepared with two ground layers: a pale-gray layer covered by a fawn-colored layer. The paint was applied vigorously, with impasto in highlights and thin washes that leave the ground partially visible in the shadows. The gray shadowed lines in the girl’s collar and fichu were created by incising into the wet white paint with the butt end of the brush to reveal the gray layer beneath.”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. (wikiwand)
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”.
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. (wikiwand)
“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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- 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: NGA
- 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://www.wikiwand.com/en/A_Young_Girl_Reading,(accessed June 26, 2022).
- 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
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