Jean–Honoré Fragonard (French, 17321806)
Etching; 5 1/4 x 8 3/8 in. (13.4 x 21.3 cm)
The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1996 (1996.328.2)
Few painters in eighteenth-century France were formally trained in printmaking and, for the most part, they left the engraving of their work to professionals. Around 176364, Fragonard tried his hand at etching, producing a small oeuvre of under fifty prints, of which the four Bacchanals are among the most admired. His facility with the etching needle, which he treated as a drawing instrument, is breathtaking. Loosely inspired by antique motifs, the Bacchanals depict playful scenes of satyrs and nymphs in the form of reliefs set in shallow landscapes, framed by the fecundity of nature. In this whimsical scene, a satyr and nymph kneel facing one another, each holding a child resembling the other, perhaps a pair of fraternal twins.