The picture is one of a few highly finished works painted by Fragonard during his first Italian sojourn, from 1756 to 1761. It belonged to the Bailli de Bréteuil, who was ambassador to Rome from Malta in 1760. A related oil sketch is in the State Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg. While the figure group reminds us that Fragonard was trained under Boucher, the intensity, the color harmonies, and the warm, dark atmosphere are his own.
Fragonard, born in the south of France, moved to Paris where he was the pupil of Jean Siméon Chardin and later of François Boucher. As a winner of the Prix de Rome, he traveled to the Italian capital in 1756 and spent most of five years there, including visits to Naples and north Italy. In 1765 he presented his reception piece, illustrating a subject from ancient history, to the Paris Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture, and the canvas was exhibited at the Salon to favorable reviews. Fragonard did not aspire to a career as a history painter, however, nor was he interested in conventional portraits. He preferred genre scenes and allegorical subjects, often with a major landscape component, and throughout his career he was equally gifted and prolific as a painter and draftsman. Little is known of Fragonard’s first years in Paris beyond the fact that he studied with Boucher, through whose influence he gained admission to the competition for the Prix de Rome of the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture in 1752. He won the prize with a grand historical subject, Jereboam Sacrificing to the Idols (École National Supérieur des Beaux-Arts, Paris) and by December 1756 he was established in Rome as an official pensioner. Boucher had warned him that he might be overwhelmed by the examples of Raphael and Michelangelo, and this seems to have been the case: the work that survives from this time indicates that he was not well suited to copying earlier masters. He was on the other hand much interested in the city and its surrounding landscape, the people of Rome, their daily life, and the work of northern painters who had settled there in the previous century. The present picture testifies to the fact that what Fragonard had to fall back on was his experience of rococo style, learned in Boucher’s atelier. The three smoothly finished figures, with their pretty, doll-like faces, dressed in sparkling pastel-colored clothes, are peasants whose elegance is worthy of Boucher. They are identified by their staffs and a gourd bottle in the background to the right. The setting, however, is something entirely different, reflecting another, simpler and more northern sensibility. It has not often been noticed that Fragonard placed the trio in a darkened landscape (signified by the tree at left), out of doors, beside a shed, with a low table and a crude chair for furniture. The rush of fluid brushwork and the contrast of bright light and gloom bring liveliness to the picture. It is believed to have belonged to an important collector, the Bailli de Breuteuil, who settled in Rome in 1758 as ambassador of the Order of Malta to the Hoy See, and if so is perhaps the earliest privately commissioned painting by the artist to survive. [Katharine Baetjer 2011]
Jacques Laure Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Bailli de Breteuil, Rome and Paris (until d. 1785; his estate sale, Le Brun, Paris, January 16, 1786, no. 49, "L'intérieur d'une Chambre, dans laquelle on voit un jeune homme voulant embrasser une jeune fille à qui un autre tient les mains. . . ", painted in Italy, 17 pouces 6 lignes x 23 pouces, for 500 livres to Guérin); sale, MM*** [Chamgrand, Saint-Maurice & autres], Paris, March 20–24, 1787, no. 224, 18 x 23 pouces, for 722 livres to Jauffrey; Dr. Aussant, Rennes (until 1863; sale, Lainné, Paris, December 28–30, 1863, no. 31, for Fr 4,500 to Laneuville for Duchâtel); comte Duchâtel, Paris (1863–after 1885); Mrs. William Hayward, New York (by 1933–44; sold to Knoedler); [Knoedler, New York, 1944; sold to Donahue]; Mrs. James P. (Jessie Woolworth) Donahue, New York (1944–56)
Paris. Palais des Champs-Élysées. "Exhibition rétrospective: tableaux anciens. . .," June 1866, no. 49 (as "Le Raccomodement").
Paris. Musée du Louvre. "Tableaux, statues et objets d'art au profit de l'œuvre des orphelins d'Alsace-Lorraine," 1885, no. 191 (as "L'Enjeu perdu," 47 x 62 cm, lent by M. le comte Duchâtel).
London. 25 Park Lane. "Three French Reigns," February 21–April 5, 1933, no. 107 (as "L'Enjeu Perdu," lent by Mrs. William Hayward).
Tokyo. National Museum of Western Art. "Fragonard," March 18–May 11, 1980, no. 28.
Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Fragonard," May 24–June 29, 1980, no. 28.
Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Fragonard," September 24, 1987–January 4, 1988, no. 18.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fragonard," February 2–May 8, 1988, no. 18.
Rome. Villa Medici. "J. H. Fragonard e H. Robert a Roma," December 6, 1990–February 24, 1991, no. 34.
Hanover, N.H. Hood Museum of Art. "Intimate Encounters: Love and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century France," October 4, 1997–January 4, 1998, no. 22.
Toledo Museum of Art. "Intimate Encounters: Love and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century France," February 15–May 10, 1998, no. 22.
Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. "Intimate Encounters: Love and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century France," May 31–August 23, 1998, no. 22.
Ottawa. National Gallery of Canada. "The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting," June 6–September 7, 2003, no. 78.
Washington. National Gallery of Art. "The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting," October 12, 2003–January 11, 2004, no. 78.
Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. "The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting," February 8–May 9, 2004, no. 78.
Siena. Santa Maria della Scala. "Federico Barocci, 1535–1612: l'incanto del colore, una lezione per due secoli," October 11, 2009–January 10, 2010, no. 110 (as "La scommessa perduta (Il bacio vinto)").
Paris. Musée du Luxembourg. "Fragonard amoureux: Galant et libertin," September 16, 2015–January 24, 2016, no. 15.
Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. "Fragonard." Gazette des beaux-arts 18 (1865), p. 41, describe the picture, "L'Enjeu Perdu," as in the Breteuil sale and reappearing in the sale of Dr. Aussant; draw attention to its "fluid and highly finished execution"; see in it Murillo's influence.
Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. Vol. 2, 3rd ed. Paris, 1882, pp. 321–22.
Roger Portalis. Honoré Fragonard, sa vie et son oeuvre. Paris, 1889, vol. 1, p. 72; vol. 2, p. 276, with the dimensions 48 x 62 cm, lists the picture in the collection of the comte Duchâtel and notes that it sold for 4,500 francs at the Aussant sale.
Pierre de Nolhac. J.-H. Fragonard, 1732–1806. Paris, 1906, p. 124, adds the Chamgrand sale, lists the painting in the Duchâtel collection, but illustrates the version formerly belonging to Reginald Vaile (opp. p. 84).
Sergei Ernst. IUsupovskaia galereia: frantsuzkaia shkola [The Yusupov Gallery: French School of Painting]. Leningrad, 1924, p. 122, notes that the bailli de Breteuil version was engraved by R. Brichet in Rome in 1766 and dedicated to Countess Gentile Boccapadule.
Louis Réau. Fragonard, sa vie et son oeuvre. Brussels, 1956, pp. 65, 157, calls it a replica of the Hermitage sketch, to which he assigns the provenance Breteuil, Chamgrand, Aussant, and Duchâtel, and which he believes to be the source of a 1766 engraving by Robert Brichet; confuses it with the ex-Vaile example.
Elizabeth E. Gardner. "Notes." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 15 (November 1956), n.p. inside cover, ill. in color on cover.
Georges Wildenstein. The Paintings of Fragonard, Complete Edition. London, 1960, pp. 224–25, no. 119, pl. 31, as commissioned by the Bailli de Breteuil; perhaps engraved by Robert Brichet in Rome and dedicated to Marchesa Baccupadule, but the engraving is not in the Bibliothèque Nationale; suggests it may have figured in an anonymous sale of March 23, 1874, lot 29; then confuses it with the ex-Vaile version listing Neumann, Wertheimer, and F. Plaut as former owners.
Jacques Thuillier. Fragonard. English ed. Geneva, 1967, pp. 9, 49–50.
Gabriele Mandel inL'opera completa di Fragonard. Milan, 1972, p. 92, no. 127, ill.
Denys Sutton. Fragonard. Exh. cat., National Museum of Western Art. Tokyo, 1980, unpaginaged, no. 28, ill. (color).
Pierre Rosenberg and Barbara Brejon de Lavergnée. Panopticon italiano: un diario di viaggio ritrovato, 1759-1761. Rome, 1986, pp. 28, 53.
Raoul Ergmann. "La collection inédite du Bailli de Breteuil." Connaissance des Arts no. 413–14 (July–August 1986), p. 74, ill. in color.
Séverine de Breteuil. Un grand collectionneur sous Louis XV: Le cabinet de Jacques-Laure de Breteuil, Bailli de l'Ordre de Malte 1723–1785. Exh. cat., Château de Breteuil. [Breteuil], 1986, pp. ii, 24–25, no. 108.
Inna S. Nemilova. The Hermitage Catalogue of Western European Painting: French Painting, Eighteenth Century. Florence, 1986, p. 91, under no. 46.
Pierre Cabanne. Fragonard. Paris, 1987, pp. 30, 41.
Jean-Pierre Cuzin. Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Vie et oeuvre, catalogue complet des peintures. Fribourg, Switzerland, 1987, pp. 49–50, 251 nn. 24–25, p. 274, no. 76, ill. in text (color) and in cat., is not certain that the Hermitage picture is a sketch for ours; includes in the provenance sales for the version formerly in the Goldschmidt collection; notes that the Bailli de Breteuil was in Rome from June 23, 1758.
Denys Sutton. "Jean-Honoré Fragonard: The World as Illusion." Apollo 125 (February 1987), pp. 105–6, ill.
Pierre Rosenberg. Fragonard. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1988, pp. 63, 79, 82–83, no. 18, ill. (color) [French ed., 1987, as "'L'enjeu perdu' ou 'Le baiser gagné'"], dates it about 1759 (the Bailli de Breteuil made his solemn entrance into Rome only in April 1759); publishes the drawing made after it by François Lonsing in 1766; observes that the MMA picture and that in the Hermitage have similar dimensions, and that the latter work cannot have been a sketch for the former, but nevertheless refers to the MMA painting as "the completed version".
Philip Conisbee. "New York: Fragonard at the Metropolitan." Burlington Magazine 130 (April 1988), p. 321, feels that this version may be "a later, more 'neo-classical' rendering".
Pierre Rosenberg. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Fragonard. Paris, 1989, pp. 77–78, no. 63, ill. p. 77 and colorpl. VI.
Jean-Pierre Cuzin and Pierre Rosenberg inJ. H. Fragonard e H. Robert a Roma. Exh. cat., Villa Medici. Rome, 1990, pp. 79–81, 89, no. 34, ill., identify it as the finished version of the St. Petersburg sketch and refer to the Goldsmith-Rothschild example as "autograph (?)".
Colin Harrison inThe Dictionary of Art. Ed. Jane Turner. Vol. 11, New York, 1996, p. 366.
Richard Rand et al. Intimate Encounters: Love and Domesticity in Eighteenth-Century France. Exh. cat., Hood Museum of Art. Hanover, N.H., 1997, p. 138–39, 162, no. 22, ill. in color, suggests that Saint-Non—who arrived in Italy in 1759 and was the guest of the Bailli de Breteuil—negotiated this commission.
Richard Rand. "The Intimate Interior in Eighteenth-Century French Genre Painting." Antiques 152 (September 1997), p. 329, pl. 6.
Florence de Voldère. La peinture flamande du XVIe au XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 2001, ill. in color, pp. 98, 311.
Thomas W. Gaehtgens inThe Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting. Ed. Colin B. Bailey. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. New Haven, 2003, pp. 280–81, 370, no. 78, ill. (color).
Colin B. Bailey inThe Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting. Ed. Colin B. Bailey. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. New Haven, 2003, pp. 31–32, 39 n. 276.
Isabella Colucci. "Il salotto e le collezioni della marchesa Boccapaduli." Quaderni storici, n.s., 39 (August 2004), pp. 469, 490 n. 76.
Jennifer D. Milam. Fragonard's Playful Paintings: Visual Games in Rococo Art. Manchester, 2006, pp. 110–13, colorpl. XIV.
Jean-Pierre Cuzin inJean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), Orígenes e influencias: De Rembrandt al siglo XXI. Exh. cat., CaixaForum. Barcelona, 2006, pp. 23, 63, 197, 208.
Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey. Fragonard. Paris, 2006, pp. 41, 168, ill. p. 45 (color).
Colin B. Bailey inFrench Art of the Eighteenth Century at The Huntington. Ed. Shelley M. Bennett and Carolyn Sargentson. [San Marino, Calif.], 2008, pp. 346, 348 n. 61.
Pierre Rosenberg inFederico Barocci, 1535–1612: l'incanto del colore, una lezione per due secoli. Exh. cat., Santa Maria della Scala, Siena. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2009, pp. 382–83, no. 110, ill. (color).
Michel Delon, ed. The Libertine: The Art of Love in Eighteenth-Century France. New York, 2013, ill. pp. 430–31 (color).
Jean M. Goulemot. Le Petit dictionnaire Fragonard en 16 plaisirs. Paris, 2015, p. 42, ill. p. 39 (color).
Guillaume Faroult. Fragonard amoureux. Paris, 2015, pp. 14–15, ill. (color).
Guillaume Faroult inFragonard amoureux: Galant et libertin. Ed. Guillaume Faroult. Exh. cat., Musée du Luxembourg. Paris, 2015, pp. 29, 90–91, no. 15, ill. (color).
A version in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, is almost certainly the one mentioned with a pendant in the le Clerc sale (Joullain fils, Paris, December 17, 1764, no. 298, each 17 1/2 x 22 in.). The pendant is in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow. Both were in the Youssoupoff collection.
A third version (location unknown), very close to the MMA painting, was in the collection of Baron Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild in Frankfurt-am-Main, where it was exhibited in 1925 (56.3 x 67.1 cm). It is difficult to judge the strength of the attribution from old photographs. A partial provenance is: [Sedelmeyer Gallery, Paris, 1900]; Reginald Vaile, London (by 1901–3; sale, Christie's, London, May 23, 1903, for £320 to Sedelmeyer); [Sedelmeyer Gallery, Paris, from 1903]; Eugène Fischof, New York (sale, Waldorf-Astoria, New York, Feb. 22–23, 1907, no. 102, for $13,500 to Spencer); Frederick R. Spencer, New York (from 1907); Baron Max von Goldschmidt-Rothschild, Frankfurt-am-Main (by 1925).
A Fragonard titled L'Enjeu and without dimensions, whose description fits this composition, was in an anonymous sale (Hôtel Drouot, Paris, March 23, 1874, no. 22). Rosenberg (1988) illustrates another, "After Fragonard," sold in Paris, April 29, 1929, no. 111, 45 x 55 cm.