Saint-Non, who held a degree in theology, took minor religious orders. Later he became an amateur artist, writer, and traveler and a congenial figure in Paris society. He was a friend and patron of Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), whom he met in Rome and with whom he traveled back to France in 1761. The Abbé’s gifts, as demonstrated here, were those of a highly skilled copyist. The pastel reproduces, with slight variations, a Fragonard painting of the same title as it looked before it was cut down to half its original size. The Fragonard painting is exhibited in gallery 615. The younger child rides a wheeled horse. Below is a Polichinelle doll—a masked clown in a bicorne hat.
The Abbé was a younger son but he was not without financial resources, as his father owned property in Paris and at Saint-Non (modern Saint Nom) and La Bretèche. Born in Paris, in 1748 he was graduated in theology from the Sorbonne and took minor religious orders; later he bought a benefice, becoming in 1758 abbé commendataire of the abbey of Pothières near Châtillon-sur-Seine, Burgundy. Saint-Non spent the balance of his life as a congenial figure in Paris society, an artist and an amateur of the arts. He was a prolific printmaker, specializing in aquatint; he is recorded also as a painter, draftsman, and pastellist, but few works by him in any of these media have been identified. He is chiefly remembered for the journal of his visit to Italy (1759–61); for his association with Hubert Robert (1733–1808) and Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806); and for his support of the publication of a great eighteenth-century French illustrated book, "Voyage pittoresque, ou description des royaumes de Naples et de Sicilie" (1781–86). He owned several paintings and many drawings by Fragonard, and in 1769 was the subject for one of the most beautiful of the fantasy portraits, or "figures de fantaisie" (Musée du Louvre, Paris).
Two Sisters reproduces an oil painting by Fragonard (53.61.5), which by chance is also in The Met, as it looked before it was cut down to about half its original size. The pastel is signed and dated 1770, the approximate date of the painting. The identity of the sitters is not known. Typically, the girls are dressed as adults, in contemporary costumes. The doll, a Polichinelle, takes the form of a clown with a mask and a bicorne hat. Saint-Non's children are prettier and more conventional in appearance than Fragonard's; he eschews the brilliant yellow that Fragonard used for the younger girl's dress. The drawing, especially of the hands and arms, is weak but the pastel is rare and has enormous charm.
[Katharine Baetjer 2010]
Inscription: Signed and dated (left): SaintNon / 1770
[Paul or Edouard Jonas, Paris, mid-1930s; sold to Wildenstein]; [Wildenstein, Paris and New York, mid-1930s–1977]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe," May 17–August 14, 2011, no. 14.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Eighteenth-Century Pastels," August 6–December 29, 2013, no catalogue.
Georges Wildenstein. "L'Abbé de Saint-Non, artiste et mécène." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 54 (November 1959), p. 228, fig. 5, publishes the pastel (in a "private collection"), reading the date as 1779 and identifying the girls as Rosalie Fragonard and Marguerite Gérard; notes that most of the surviving copies by Saint-Non after Fragonard are based on works from about 1770.
Georges Wildenstein. The Paintings of Fragonard, Complete Edition. London, 1960, p. 305, mentions the pastel in cataloguing Fragonard's painting [MMA 53.61.5; cat. no. 476], "The Two Sisters, or Portrait of Rosalie Fragonard and her aunt, Marguerite Gérard"; notes that the pastel is in the Wildenstein Collection.
Elizabeth E. Gardner. "Four French Paintings from the Berwind Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 20 (May 1962), p. 268, fig. 5, reads the date as 1779.
Gabriele Mandel inL'opera completa di Fragonard. Milan, 1972, p. 108, no. 501², ill., illustrates the pastel to suggest the larger composition of Fragonard's original.
Mary Ann Wurth Harris. "The Abbé de Saint-Non and His Pastel Copy of a Painting by Fragonard." Apollo 110 (July 1979), pp. 57–61, fig. 61, reads the date on the pastel unhesitatingly as 1770; refutes identification of the girls as Rosalie Fragonard and Marguerite Gérard, as Rosalie was born in 1769 and Marguerite did not come to live with the Fragonard family in Paris until 1775; also notes that there was a separation of nearly nine years in the ages of the two girls; thoroughly discusses the relationship of the pastel to Fragonard's painting.
Denys Sutton. Fragonard. Exh. cat., National Museum of Western Art. Tokyo, 1980, unpaginated, under no. 77 (Fragonard's painting), repeats Harris's ideas [see Ref. 1979] but misquotes the date on the pastel as 1790.
Pierre Rosenberg. Fragonard. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1988, pp. 332, 334, ill., observes that 1779 is the date generally agreed on for the pastel, but notes that for stylistic reasons the painting cannot have been painted later than 1770; states that the pastel was sold in Nice on November 2 or 7, 1951.
Pierre Rosenberg. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Fragonard. Paris, 1989, pp. 103–4, no. 294B, ill.
Colin B. Bailey. Patriotic Taste: Collecting Modern Art in Pre-Revolutionary Paris. New Haven, 2002, p. 278 n. 93.
Jennifer D. Milam. Fragonard's Playful Paintings: Visual Games in Rococo Art. Manchester, 2006, p. 102 n. 54.
Katharine Baetjer and Marjorie Shelley. "Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (Spring 2011), pp. 24–25, 27, no. 14, ill. (color).