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Born in Grasse, in a family of merchants, Fragonard joined Paris at the age of six to study there. Placed at the age of thirteen with a notary, his parents noticed his taste for drawing and presented him to François Boucher, painter of the Académie and future painter of the King. Having first entrusted him to Jean Chardin, the master took him back to his studio and encouraged him to compete for the Grand Prix of painting. He won it the first time at the age of twenty.
Fragonard then spent six years at the Ecole Royale des Pupils Protégés and undertook a three-year trip to Italy, a must for any future artist. On his return, he joined the Académie, making him an established artist. He received official commissions and his studio at the Louvre. Fragonard then produced paintings with historical or religious subjects.
In 1769, Fragonard painted a series of classical portraits, better known as “fantasy figures”. Abandoning official honours, he gradually favoured a private clientele and small-format paintings intended to decorate the rich interiors of the aristocracy. The fiery line, the bright colors of his paintings celebrate with great poetry youth and nature. In reaction against puritanism, the libertine spirit of the Plâne Enlightenment on France. Fragonard is the painter of many gallant scenes, a fashion initiated by Watteau.
It presents the entertainment of the nobility in a lush nature where, under the guise of play, desire is expressed without hindrance. Marked by a great sensuality or even a certain eroticism, these engravings are a great success and are reminiscent of Les Liaisons Dangereuses de Laclos. Examples of this period, La fuite à dessein, the series of Contes libertins de La Fontaine or La culbute.
In 1771, the artist painted five panels for the Countess Du Barry, the king’s official mistress. Placed in his castle of Louveciennes, they are returned to him two years later because of the publication of a pamphlet which criticizes the style Rococo too manipulated decors and baptizes Fragonard of the “Grand Master of Tartouillis”.
Tastes having clearly evolved, the painter changes style and, ahead of his time, evolves towards Romanticism. With the arrival of the French Revolution, a new genre was established: Neo-classicism which advocated the return to order and virtue. Fragonard no longer found his place in the aesthetic panorama and retired to Grasse, to his cousin whose villa is now a museum.
He died on 22 August 1806.