Art/ Collection/ Art Object

The Two Sisters

Jean Honoré Fragonard (French, Grasse 1732–1806 Paris)
ca. 1769–70
Oil on canvas
28 1/4 x 22 in. (71.8 x 55.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of Julia A. Berwind, 1953
Accession Number:
Not on view
This picture must date to the late 1760s and was engraved with the title "Les Jeunes Soeurs" or "The Young Sisters." While we do not know who the girls were, we do know—from the evidence of an oil sketch and a copy in pastels, as well as from the engraving—that the canvas has been cut down. Originally, Fragonard showed the older girl at full-length and the younger one seated on a wheeled wooden horse in an elegant interior.
The painting is first recorded in 1785, in the Paris estate sale of the Marquis de Véri, where it is described as showing two little girls playing games suitable to their age, the younger riding a papier-mâché horse on wheels, and her sister holding on to her while pushing the vehicle. The canvas was originally about twice the size it is now: the entire composition is recorded in an undated engraving by Gérard Vidal (1742–1801) titled Les Jeunes Soeurs (The Young Sisters). A signed and dated pastel copy (The Met, 1977.383) of 1770 by Jean-Baptiste Claude Richard, Abbé de Saint-Non (1727–1791), Fragonard’s patron and friend, shows the figure group complete and a great part of the columned hall in the background. The style of the picture suggests that it was painted shortly before this pastel.

Typically, the girls wear up-to-date adult dresses in soft pastel colors. Their blond hair is tied back in ringlets. The toy horse has a salmon-colored lead rein and saddle blanket, and bows of the same color tied to his harness. Saint-Non’s pastel shows that originally a large Polichinelle doll in a pointed hat with reddened cheeks, lips, and eye sockets rested on the horse’s wheeled platform. The painting could have been a double portrait or, more likely, a scene of children at play, a genre that had been favored especially in the 1730s by Jean Siméon Chardin (1699–1769). If a portrait, the identification of the children as Fragonard’s daughter Rosalie (b. 1769) and his sister-in-law Marguerite Gérard (b. 1761) is ruled out by their respective birth dates.

It was perhaps thought that the awkward effect of the finished picture—the alignment of the animal’s head, the small girl’s knees, and the older girl’s bustle—would be mitigated by cutting the canvas down, which occurred sometime before 1916, when this work appeared on the art market. There is a loosely painted preliminary sketch (Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon) that suffers from the same awkwardness.

[Katharine Baetjer 2011]
Louis Gabriel de Véri-Raionard, marquis de Véri, Paris (until d. 1785; his estate sale, Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, December 12, 1785, no. 35, as "deux jeunes filles occupées à des jeux de leur âge; la plus petite est montée sur un cheval de carton," 37 x 30 pouces [39 1/2 x 32 in.], for 350 livres to Saint-Marc); Jean Paul André des Rasins, marquis de Saint-Marc (from 1785); private collection, near Stockholm, Sweden (sold to Zarine); A. Zarine, Consul General of Russia, Paris (until 1916; sold to Wildenstein); [Gimpel & Wildenstein, Paris, 1916–18; sold for $194,000 to Berwind]; Edward J. Berwind, New York (1918–d. 1936); his sister, Julia A. Berwind, New York (1936–53)
Tokyo. National Museum of Western Art. "Fragonard," March 18–May 11, 1980, no. 77.

Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. "Fragonard," May 24–June 29, 1980, no. 77.

Paris. Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais. "Fragonard," September 24, 1987–January 4, 1988, no. 157.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Fragonard," February 2–May 8, 1988, no. 157.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Eighteenth-Century Pastel Portraits," July 26–October 29, 2017, no catalogue.

Catalogue des tableaux des trois écoles . . . du cabinet de feu M le Marquis de Véri. Hôtel de Bullion, Paris. December 12, 1785, p. 24, no. 35, as "deux jeunes filles occupées à des jeux de leur âge; la plus petite est montée sur un cheval de carton porté par des roulettes, & sa soeur est auprès d'elle qui la soutient & pousse l'équipage," 37 x 30 pouces.

Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. Vol. 2, 3rd ed. Paris, 1882, p. 374, as "Les Jeunes Soeurs," engraved by Vidal, and sold in the 1785 Veri sale for 350 livres to M. de Saint-Marc.

Roger Portalis. Honoré Fragonard, sa vie et son oeuvre. Paris, 1889, vol. 1, p. 63, ill. opp. p. 114 (1st state of engraving); vol. 2, pp. 275, 329, no. 116 (Vidal's engraving).

Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt. L'art du dix-huitième siècle. definitive ed. Paris, 1906, vol. 3, p. 288.

Pierre de Nolhac. J.-H. Fragonard, 1732–1806. Paris, 1906, p. 131.

Georges Grappe. H. Fragonard: Peintre de l'amour au XVIIIe siècle. Paris, 1913, vol. 1, p. 120; vol. 2, p. 65, no. 31 (the engraving), as among works dating about 1780.

A. Damécourt. "Nos échos: Un Fragonard." Le Cousin Pons 1 (December 15, 1916), pp. 141–42, ill. (engraving).

"Dans les galeries d'art." New York Herald [Paris] (December 2, 1916), p. 4, as Rosalie Fragonard and Marguerite Gérard; bought by Wildenstein from Zarine, who found it in the vicinity of Stockholm.

"Discovered Fragonard." American Art News 15 (January 6, 1917), p. 5, ill. (engraving).

Briggs Davenport. "A Fragonard Rediscovered." American Art News 15 (March 17, 1917), p. 5.

L[ouis]. V[auxcelles]. "Art ancien: Un chef-d'oeuvre de Fragonard retrouvé." Le carnet des artistes no. 2 (February 15, 1917), pp. 9–11, ill., at its present size, 72 x 54 cm, as Rosalie Fragonard and Marguerite Gérard, finds the cutting down of the canvas "a simple question of taste".

A. Damécourt. "A propos d'un Fragonard." Le Cousin Pons 2 (March 1, 1917), p. 182, ill. (engraving).

Louis Réau. L'art français aux États-Unis. Paris, 1926, p. 142.

Louis Réau. Fragonard, sa vie et son oeuvre. Brussels, 1956, pp. 167, 245–46.

Georges Wildenstein. "L'Abbé de Saint-Non, artiste et mécène." Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 54 (November 1959), p. 228, illustrates as fig. 5 a pastel after this picture by Saint-Non (1977.383), reading the date on it as 1779.

Georges Wildenstein. The Paintings of Fragonard, Complete Edition. London, 1960, p. 305, no. 476, pl. 106, as "The Two Sisters," or "Portrait of Rosalie Fragonard and her Aunt, Marguerite Gérard".

Elizabeth E. Gardner. "Four French Paintings from the Berwind Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 20 (May 1962), pp. 265, 268, fig. 6, mentions Fragonard's preliminary sketch in the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon.

René Gimpel. Diary of an Art Dealer. English ed. New York, 1966, p. 33, entry for June 10, 1918, notes that he sold to Berwind "Fragonard's Les Deux Soeurs, an [sic] engraving, for $194,000".

Gabriele Mandel in L'opera completa di Fragonard. Milan, 1972, p. 108, no. 501, ill.

Eunice Williams. Drawings by Fragonard in North American Collections. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 1978, p. 136, compares the younger child with the sitter in Fragonard's red chalk drawing, "Young Girl Taking a Nap" (ill. p. 137), whom she tentatively identifies as Rosalie Fragonard.

Mary Ann Wurth Harris. "The Abbé de Saint-Non and His Pastel Copy of a Painting by Fragonard." Apollo 110 (July 1979), pp. 57, 60–61, fig. 2, reads the date on the pastel as 1770 and notes that Rosalie Fragonard (b. 1769) was then an infant, while Marguerite Gérard did not come to live with the Fragonard family until 1775; remarks that the collector who had the picture cut down may have done so because of "Fragonard's careless drawing of the body of the older girl" .

Denys Sutton. Fragonard. Exh. cat., National Museum of Western Art. Tokyo, 1980, unpaginated, no. 77, ill. (color), misquotes the date on the pastel as 1790.

Jean-Pierre Cuzin. Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Vie et oeuvre, catalogue complet des peintures. Fribourg, Switzerland, 1987, pp. 127–28, 296–97, no. 195, ill. (in text and catalogue), dates our painting 1770? or 1772?; rejects the identification of the sitters as Rosalie Fragonard and Marguerite Gérard.

Pierre Rosenberg. Fragonard. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1988, pp. 332–34, no. 157, ill. (color) [French ed., 1987, as "Les jeunes sœurs"], observes that it was painted not later than 1770, adding that Colin Bailey established that the Marquis de Véri assembled his collection between 1775 and 1779; notes that the older of the two sisters appears at the right in Fragonard's "Visit to the Nursery".

Pierre Rosenberg. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Fragonard. Paris, 1989, pp. 103–4, no. 294, ill., dates it about 1770–72.

Colin B. Bailey. Patriotic Taste: Collecting Modern Art in Pre-Revolutionary Paris. New Haven, 2002, pp. 119, 278 n. 93, pl. 108.

Jennifer D. Milam. Fragonard's Playful Paintings: Visual Games in Rococo Art. Manchester, 2006, pp. 93–95, 102 nn. 54–55, colorpl. IX.

Katharine Baetjer and Marjorie Shelley. "Pastel Portraits: Images of 18th-Century Europe." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 68 (Spring 2011), p. 25.

Philippe Bordes in America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting. Exh. cat., National Gallery of Art. Washington, 2017, pp. 103, 117 n. 7.

The frame is from Paris and dates to about 1748 (see Additional Images, figs. 1–4). This exceptional quality frame transitions in style between the Régence and Louis XV periods. Its back frame is made of oak while the front is carved of limewood. The mitred corners are secured with tapered keys. The small hollow at the sight edge rises to a passage of acanthus and husk ornament. A narrow frieze and bead lie within the hollow ornamented with ivy and berry sprays. Elaborate carved corners with shells and rocaille cartouches frame dolphin fleur-de-lis. Acanthus volutes connect to swept reeds secured with acanthus leaves at the top edge. The rocaille carved centers are symmetrical at the sides but distinct from the cartouche ornamented with cabochon at the top and three fleur-de-lis at the base. Water gilded overall with matte and burnished passages on ochre and red bole the carving is expertly articulated in the recut gesso. Though slightly enlarged on its vertical sides the distinctive motifs indicate its association with the Dauphin (1729–1765), the deceased son and heir to Louis XV.

[Timothy Newbery with Cynthia Moyer 2017; further information on this frame can be found in the Department of European Paintings files]
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