In 18th century France, many aspiring young artists were given the opportunity to study in Italy, but Fragonard had the rare privilege of returning at the height of his powers as part of a year-long voyage underwritten by collector and financier Pierre-Jacques Onésyme Bergeret de Grancourt. In the Spring of 1774, at the southernmost point of their tour, the traveling party spent two months installed at lodgings at the edge of the bay of Naples. In between their sightseeing jaunts and social engagements, Fragonard clearly relished making drawings of local types, including fishermen and their wives.
Drawn on an unusually large scale, this pair of studies (see also 2006.353.2) embodies the accomplishment and confidence of Fragonard’s mature manner. Red chalk is used not only to delineate form, but to lay in areas of light and shadow through broad hatching and modulation of pressure. Despite their bare feet and somewhat ragged attire, the fishermen cut dashing figures with their broad-brimmed hats, billowy jackets, and looped-over sashes. The low angle of the sunlight and the slight weariness of their poses are both suggestive of end of the day labor.
Perrin Stein, May 2014