Jean Honoré Fragonard (French, Grasse 1732–1806 Paris)
Oil on canvas
32 x 25 3/4 in. (81.3 x 65.4 cm)
Fletcher Fund, 1937
Not on view
The model's costume recalls the court dress in which Rubens depicted Marie de Médicis (1573–1642), queen of France, in the series of famous paintings in the Musée du Louvre. She has recently been identified as Marie Émilie Coignet de Courson (1727–1806).
Fragonard's canvas is broadly brushed, with exceptional virtuosity and panache. There is humor in the contrast between the ample proportions of the lady and the small size of her lapdog; the curl of his silky tail echoes her gray ringlets. Her pearls are too large to have been real.
The striped robe with a high standing collar that Fragonard depicted here would have been recognized in the second half of the eighteenth century as a theatrical costume and described at the time as à l’espagnole, or in the Spanish style. It was old-fashioned, and would have brought to mind the court dress in which Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) famously depicted Marie de Médicis (1573–1642), queen of Henri IV of France, in a series of paintings then as now in the French royal collection (Musée du Louvre, Paris). Rubens’s queen is large, imposing, and plain. And there is an inferential connection to the present picture, suggesting that we should regard as humorous the contrast between the ample proportions of the lady in the ermine-lined cloak and the small size of her lapdog. The curl of his silky white tail echoes her gray ringlets. Her brooch and pearls are much too large to have been real.
This painting, lost from sight until 1907, evidently was not mentioned in Fragonard’s own time. When it was rediscovered, the sitter was identified as a member of his family, but he had neither a sister nor an aunt, and his daughter Rosalie was not born until 1770. He would later record the appearance of his wife, Marie Anne Gérard (1745–1823), whom he married in 1769, and by general agreement it is not she. It dates to about that same year or a little later and belongs to a group of a dozen or more works of nearly identical dimensions showing figures in fancy dress with a stone ledge or pedestal in the foreground. They are now referred to as figures de fantaisie, or fantasy figures, and are much admired, particularly because they were painted as a sort of tour de force, rapidly, with broad strokes of the brush and with exceptional virtuosity and panache. While Fragonard did not give attention to details of an individual’s likeness, some if not all of those represented seem to have been his patrons and friends. The model for the present painting was almost certainly Marie Émilie Coignet de Courson (1727–1806).
Fragonard’s grandson, Théophile, who was usually a reliable source of information, reported that at the height of his career Fragonard "received many distinguished foreigners, who had not seen everything if they had not seen the gallery . . . [he] had made for himself . . . [comprising] paintings entirely by his own hand." Pierre Rosenberg (1988) has suggested that the fantasy figures may have constituted this so-called gallery. According to his hypothesis, most if not all would have been installed in Fragonard's apartment in the Louvre.
[Katharine Baetjer 2013]
Marie Anne Eléonore de Grave; Augustine de Grave and her husband, Henri Marie Amable, marquis de Cambis (until his d. 1795/96); Amable Élisabeth Françoise Henriette de Cambis and her husband, Joseph Gabriel Paulin de Cambis-Alais, vicomte de Cambis-Alais (1795/96–his d. 1866); Charles-Pierre-Marie de Cambis-Alais, comte de Cambis-Alais (d. 1866); Marguerite de Cambis-Alais and her husband, Charles Siffrien des Isnards, marquis des Isnards (from 1866); [Eugène Féral, Paris, before d. 1900; sold to Burat]; Mme Louis Burat, Paris (by 1907–d. 1937; her estate sale, Galerie Jean Charpentier, Paris, June 17, 1937, no. 3, for Fr 1,450,000 to Seligmann, Rey & Co. for MMA)
Paris. Galerie Georges Petit. "Chardin et Fragonard," June–July 1907, no. 91 (as "Portrait de la soeur de Fragonard," lent by Mme Burat).
Paris. Musée des Arts Décoratifs. "Exposition d'oeuvres de J.–H. Fragonard," June 7–July 10, 1921, no. 31 (as "Portrait de femme tenant un chien," lent by Mme Burat).
London. Royal Academy of Arts. "French Art: 1200–1900," January 4–March 12, 1932, no. 264 (as "Portrait of Rosalie Fragonard, the Artist's Sister," lent by J. Besnier) [commemorative catalogue, 1933, no. 164].
Paris. location unknown. "Le siècle de Louis XV vu par les artistes," 1934, no. 150 (as "Femme tenant un chien," lent by Besnier).
Allentown, Pa. Allentown Art Museum. October 22–26, 1948, no catalogue?
Louisville. J. B. Speed Art Museum. "Old Masters from the Metropolitan," December 1, 1948–January 23, 1949, no catalogue.
Madison. Memorial Union Gallery, University of Wisconsin. "Old Masters from the Metropolitan," February 15–March 30, 1949, unnumbered cat.
Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. "Old Masters from the Metropolitan," April 24–June 30, 1949, no catalogue.
Palm Beach. Society of the Four Arts. "European Masters of the XVII and XVIII Centuries," January 13–February 5, 1950, no. 19.
Tokyo National Museum. "Treasured Masterpieces of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," August 10–October 1, 1972, no. 85.
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Treasured Masterpieces of The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 8–November 26, 1972, no. 85.
Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 52.
Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 52.
New York. Grey Art Gallery and Study Center, New York University. "Circa 1776," November 1–24, 1976, unnumbered cat. (p. 6).
Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Fragonard," September 24, 1987–January 4, 1988, no. 139.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fragonard," February 2–May 8, 1988, no. 139.
Martigny. Fondation Pierre Gianadda. "The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne," June 23–November 12, 2006, no. 38.
Barcelona. Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. "Grandes maestros de la pintura europea de The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nueva York: De El Greco a Cézanne," December 1, 2006–March 4, 2007, no. 30.
London. Royal Academy of Arts. January 24–April 10, 2015, no. 108.
Robert de La Sizeranne. "Le double mirroir du XVIIIe siècle." Revue des deux mondes, 5th ser., 40 (July 1907), p. 185, calls it the lady with the pearls and the little dog, the artist's sister.
Maurice Tourneux. "L'exposition Chardin–Fragonard." Gazette des beaux-arts 38 (1907), p. 100.
Armand Dayot and Léandre Vaillat. L'oeuvre de J.-B.-S. Chardin et de J.-H. Fragonard. Paris, , p. xi, ill. no. 77, call it a portrait of Fragonard's sister, Rosalie, from the collection of M. Féral who acquired it from the "De Cambise ou Des Isnards".
Georges Grappe. H. Fragonard: Peintre de l'amour au XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1913, vol. 1, ill. opp. p. 54, as the artist's sister.
André Dezarrois. "Chroniques: L'art français à Londres." Revue de l'art ancien et moderne 61 (January–May 1932), p. 92.
Charles Sterling inCommemorative Catalogue of French Art, 1200–1900: Royal Academy of Arts, London. Exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts. London, 1933, p. 45, no. 164, as a presumed portrait of Rosalie Fragonard dating to 1765–67, belonging to J. Besnier.
"New Metropolitan Pictures." Art News 36 (Janauary 15, 1938), p. 13, ill.
Art in America 26 (April 1938), p. 92, ill.
Hermann W. Williams Jr. "Portrait of a Lady with a Dog by Fragonard." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 33 (January 1938), pp. 14–16, ill. on cover, notes its stylistic similarity to four sketch-like Fragonards in the Louvre, dating it to 1767–70; states that due to the sitter's anachronistic "Spanish" dress, she may be an actress or singer.
"Metropolitan Buys a Fragonard, Who Listened When Fragonard Spoke." Art Digest (February 1, 1938), p. 8, ill.
Charles Sterling. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. Vol. 1, XV–XVIII Centuries. Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 154–55, ill., remarks that the subject has been mistakenly identified as Rosalie, the artist's aunt, and also as his sister (he never had one); suggests an actress; notes that the costume recalls the court dress of Marie de' Medici, and would not have been unusual in the French theater of Fragonard's time.
Louis Réau. Fragonard, sa vie et son oeuvre. Brussels, 1956, pp. 182, 252, , as a portrait painted about 1770.
Georges Wildenstein. The Paintings of Fragonard, Complete Edition. London, 1960, pp. 14, 257, 259, no. 256, ill., catalogues it with pictures dating between 1765 and 1772; comments on the influence of Rubens on the technique.
Charles Sterling. Portrait of a Man (The Warrior): Jean Honoré Fragonard. Exh. cat., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute. Williamstown, Mass., 1964, unpaginated, groups the picture with thirteen others of similar size called "fantasy portraits," which he believes represent specific individuals; suggests that the female portraits of fantasy comprised a different series from those of men; observes that the costume was inspired by Van Loo and Rubens.
"Rococo Master in Williamstown." Art News 63 (September 1964), p. 44.
Calvin Tomkins. Merchants and Masterpieces: The Story of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1970, p. 224 [rev., enl. ed., 1989].
Gabriele Mandel inL'opera completa di Fragonard. Milan, 1972, p. 98, no. 273, ill.
Simone Alaida Zurawski. Rubenism. Exh. cat., Brown University. Providence, 1975, pp. 154–55, fig. 18, refers to it as "Fragonard's most playful adaptation after Rubens" and associates it with the fantasy portraits.
Harsányi Zoltán. Fragonard. Budapest, 1981, p. 14, pl. 15.
Mary D. Sheriff. "Invention, Resemblance, and Fragonard's 'Portaits de Fantaisie'." Art Bulletin 69 (March 1987), pp. 77–87, cited on p. 84, discusses Fragonard's fantasy portraits as a "deliberate play with the conventions of portraiture, a purposeful confounding of the imagined and the copied, and a demonstration of wit that consciously displayed itself at every turn".
Pierre Cabanne. Fragonard. Paris, 1987, p. 65.
Jean-Pierre Cuzin. Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Vie et oeuvre, catalogue complet des peintures. Fribourg, Switzerland, 1987, pp. 116–17, 293–94, no. 182, ill. (color and black and white).
Mary D. Sheriff. "On Fragonard's Enthusiasm." Eighteenth Century 28 (Winter 1987), p. 44 n. 1.
Pierre Rosenberg. Fragonard. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1988, pp. 288–89, no. 139, ill. (color) [French ed., 1987], calls it an "homage to Rubens," meant to be humorous.
Dore Ashton. Fragonard in the Universe of Painting. Washington, 1988, pp. 86, 133, ill. (color), observes that although it is sometimes included among the fantasy portraits, it "has the feel of a real portrait," noting specifically that the "resemblance to a real sitter comes from the light ironies of an almost mocking brush".
John McEwen. "Fragonard: Rococo or Romantic?" Art in America 76 (February 1988), p. 90, ill. (color).
Pierre Rosenberg. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Fragonard. Paris, 1989, p. 93, no. 204, ill.
Mary D. Sheriff. Fragonard: Art and Eroticism. Chicago, 1990, p. 176.
Sophie McConnell. Metropolitan Jewelry. New York, 1991, pp. 44–45, ill. (color).
Aileen Ribeiro. The Art of Dress: Fashion in England and France 1750 to 1820. New Haven, 1995, p. 167, pl. 169, dates it about 1772–73.
Paul Mitchell and Lynn Roberts. Frameworks: Form, Function & Ornament in European Portrait Frames. London, 1996, p. 441 n. 16.
Emilie E. S. Gordenker. Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) and the Representation of Dress in Seventeenth-century Portraiture. Turnhout, Belgium, 2001, p. 126 n. 118.
Flavio Caroli and Alessandra Barbuto inIl gran teatro del mondo: l'anima e il volto del Settecento. Exh. cat., Palazzo Reale. Milan, 2003, p. 440.
Katharine Baetjer inThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: Chefs-d'œuvre de la peinture européenne. Exh. cat., Fondation Pierre Gianadda. Martigny, 2006, pp. 204–8, no. 38, ill. (color, overall and detail) [Catalan ed., Barcelona, 2006, pp. 112–15, no. 30, ill. (color, overall and detail)].
Melissa Percival. Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure: Painting the Imagination. Farnham, England, 2012, pp. 19, 26, 28, 32, 34, 36, 44 n. 19, pp. 153, 169–70, 172, 189, 218, 224, colorpl. 9.
Carole Blumenfeld. "Une nouvelle figure de fantaisie de Fragonard." L'Objet d'art no. 491 (June 2013), pp. 52, 54, 57, ill. (color), as a portrait of Marie Émilie Coignet de Courson.
Carole Blumenfeld. Une facétie de Fragonard: Les révélations d'un dessin retrouvé. Montreuil, 2013, pp. 18, 20, 22, 34, 55, 59–60, 69, 71 nn. 35, 36, ill. pp. 21 (color), 56, publishes a Fragonard drawing that appeared at auction in 2012, having belonged to the artist's family; on the basis of the inscription "Courson" under the second of the eighteen figure studies, identifies our sitter as Marie Émilie Coignet de Courson and sheds light on a connection to the "De Cambise ou Des Isnards" families.
Michel Delon, ed. The Libertine: The Art of Love in Eighteenth-Century France. New York, 2013, ill. p. 413 (color).
Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey. "Fragonard's 'Fantasy Figures': Prelude to a New Understanding." Burlington Magazine 157 (April 2015), pp. 241–47, figs. 8, 12 (color).
French Louis XV frame, with shell and feather cartouches (see Mitchell and Roberts 1996).