Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Allegory of Vigilance

Jean Honoré Fragonard (French, Grasse 1732–1806 Paris)
ca. 1772
Oil on canvas
Oval, 27 1/8 x 21 5/8 in. (68.9 x 54.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of René Fribourg, 1953
Accession Number:
Not on view
The female figure is not a portrait sitter but a model in allegorical guise, and the oil lamp and books are traditional symbols of vigilance. Fragonard paints in wide liquid strokes, stopping for few details, in a style typical of his work in the 1770s.
This oval canvas came to light in 1925 when, with other French paintings from Ernest Cognacq’s collection, it was exhibited at La Samaritaine, his Paris department store. The young woman’s costume indicates that she is not a portrait sitter but a model, and the antique oil lamp and books suggest that she is Vigilance. Two works of similar shape and size have been proposed as pendants: The Goddess Minerva (Detroit Institute of Arts; see Additional Images, fig. 1), a robust, alert, shield-bearing figure who allegorizes Force; and Woman Looking in a Mirror (Utah Museum of Fine Arts; see Additional Images, fig. 2), a figure lost in contemplation who represents Prudence. Fragonard paints with assurance in wide liquid strokes, stopping very little for details, in a manner that is typical of the style he used for female subjects after 1770.

[Katharine Baetjer 2016]
Ernest Cognacq and Louise Cognacq-Jay, Paris (until her d. 1925); Ernest Cognacq, Paris (1925–d. 1928; inv., 1928, no. 25); his nephew, Gabriel Cognacq, Paris (1928–d. 1951; his estate sale, Galerie Charpentier, Paris, May 14, 1952, no. 15, as "Young Woman Reading," for Fr 3,700,000); René Fribourg, New York (until 1953)
Paris. La Samaritaine. November 1925, no catalogue (lent by Ernest Cognacq and Louise Cognacq-Jay).

Paris. château de Bagatelle. "La rose dans l'art," May 20–?, 1938, no. 33 (as "Jeune fille de profil couronnée de roses," lent by Gabriel Cognacq).

Paris. Galerie Charpentier. "Portraits français," 1945, no. 45 (as "Jeune Femme lisant").

New York. Parke-Bernet. "Art Treasures Exhibition," June 16–30, 1955, no. 349 (as "La Dame aux roses," lent by René Fribourg).

Little Rock. Arkansas Arts Center. "Five Centuries of European Painting," May 16–October 26, 1963, unnumbered cat. (p. 36).


Vente aux enchères publiques après décès de Monsieur Gabriel Cognacq. Galerie Charpentier, Paris. May 14, 1952, no. 15, pl. 14, mentions a related portrait that seems to have been in the Doucet sale (Paris, June 6, 1912, no. 149) and is claimed to be Marie-Madeleine Riggieri, one of the three Colombe sisters of the Comédie italienne.

Louis Réau. Fragonard, sa vie et son oeuvre. Brussels, 1956, p. 177, as Adeline Colombe.

Georges Wildenstein. The Paintings of Fragonard, Complete Edition. London, 1960, p. 287, no. 408, fig. 168, lists it with the painting of Minerva in Detroit among works painted between 1773 and 1776.

Jean Cailleux. "Fragonard as Painter of the Colombe Sisters [L'art du dix-huitième siècle: An advertisement supplement]." Burlington Magazine 102 (September 1960), p. vi, pl. 14 (detail), as Marie Thérèse Colombe, formerly identified as Marie Madeleine and called Adeline; compares the sitter to the girl holding a kitten and a puppy, which he dates about 1769 and identifies as the same sister.

Gabriele Mandel in L'opera completa di Fragonard. Milan, 1972, p. 105, no. 433, ill., as a pendant to Minerva, no. 432; observes that the classical lamp suggests a mythological subject; compares the young woman here with the sitter identified as Adeline Colombe in a painting in the Rothschild collection, Paris, no. 435.

Jean-Pierre Cuzin. Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Vie et oeuvre, catalogue complet des peintures. Fribourg, Switzerland, 1987, p. 304, no. 229, ill., dates it about 1772.

Pierre Rosenberg. Tout l'oeuvre peint de Fragonard. Paris, 1989, pp. 97–98, no. 244, ill., as "Allegory of Vigilance," about 1772, a pendant to "Allegory of Force" (Detroit Institute of Arts) and possibly to "Allegory of Prudence" (whereabouts unknown).

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