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A Love Letter to The Love Letter

Jean Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732–1806). The Love Letter, early 1770s. Oil on canvas; 32 3/4 x 26 3/8 in. (83.2 x 67 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Jules Bache Collection, 1949 (49.7.49)

Walking through the galleries of eighteenth-century French art, we fell in love with The Love Letter, Jean Honoré Fragonard's feathery depiction of a flirtatious young lady. What first caught our eyes was the golden light that illuminates her pale skin and rosy cheeks. The beautiful light flows through the painting and brings out the yellow, brown, and pink tones of the work. The combination of colors is simply breathtaking.

The painting also stood out because it looks almost unfinished; sections of the painting look like an underpainting. Fragonard's brushstrokes are visible in the shadows and highlights under the desk and on the lady's clothes. The curtains and the fabric have a sketch-like quality, which quickly brings the viewer's focus to the glow on her face and the secret letter attached to her flowers.

On a different note, this painting fits perfectly within its historical context. The Rococo era was one in which the loose morals and pleasure-seeking ways of France's wealthy elite were reflected in the playful frivolity of the artwork of the period. Whether the bouquet and letter are from her husband or from a secret lover, the amorous nature of the scene and the presence of her dog (a traditional symbol of fidelity) reflect the romantic ideals of Rococo.

From its light and color to its intriguing composition and meaning, Fragonard's The Love Letter is as lovely as the delicate woman shown in the painting.

Who do you think the letter is from—her husband or a secret lover?

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