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Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures

One of the leading artists of the 18th century, Fragonard captured the spirit of rococo with his images of elegant young men and women at leisure, often in bucolic settings. For evidence of his sheer virtuosity, however, look to his “fantasy portraits,” a series of about 15 engaging three-quarter-length studies that he apparently executed in about an hour each. While the backgrounds are plain, the subjects themselves wear elaborate outfits, whose plumes, ribbons, and lavish fabrics allowed the artist to show off his ability to reproduce any texture with oil paint. The identity of many of these individuals was a mystery until the recent discovery of a Fragonard drawing covered with annotated thumbnail sketches. Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures brings this “answer key” together for the first time with many of the associated paintings, offering fresh insight into the artist’s career, the significance of the imagery he used, and life in late 18th-century Paris.