Such was Fragonard’s mastery of technique that in certain passages the execution and handling of paint present a sketch-like quality. The background is described by merely a few brushy patches of glaze, and yet the third girl who enters the scene from the left is perfectly clear despite being merely alluded to, in much the same was as the background as a whole. In the foreground, where the scene is spotlit and a thicker creamy impasto used, the economy of brushwork is nevertheless clear and perhaps best exemplified by the few strokes used to beautifully describe the white shift of the recumbent girl and of the dog she holds. By contrast the rich bounce of the turquoise-blue bed is conveyed by a gentler and and smoother use of paint. That no underdrawing is present suggests that Fragonard defined his forms freely and unrehearsed, in much the same exuberent spirit in which the girls hold themselves.
The early provenance of the picture is unclear for it is possible that two versions were painted. A painting recorded in the Hall collection in 1778 and later in the Dubois sale of 1784 is described in the Dubois sale catalogue: 'Le Lever, ou deux femmes sur un lit' - 'One lying down, the other up and playing with some dogs on a bed covered with yellow material'.3 The dimensions given in the sale catalogue (81 by 54 cm.) are slightly different from those of the present picture and the fact that the bed is decribed as being covered with a yellow material, suggests this entry may be referring to another version of the present composition. The situation is complicated by the inclusion of a picture of identical measurements in the Dubois sale of 1785: 'Deux femmes, l’une debout s’amuse à faire danser les olivettes à un chien, tandis que l’autre est couché' ('Two women; one who is up amuses herself by making a dog dance the olive-harvesters’ dance, while the other is lying down').4 Some writers have assumed that the pictures appearing in the Dubois sales of 1784 and 1785 were one and the same but the fact that the descriptions differ slightly (or indeed differ at all) might suggest otherwise. A painting described in the De Ghendt sale, on 15 November 1779, lot 31, as 'Deux jeunes filles en chemise avec leur chien, sur un lit d’étoffe jaune, l’une debout, l’autre couchée sur le ventre' was tentatively associated by Wildenstein with the picture in the 1785 Dubois sale, but the specific description of the scene taking place on a 'lit d’étoffe jaune' may connect it more convincingly with the one described in the Dubois sale of 1784. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the Goncourts (see Literature), who describe the picture in the De Ghendt sale, give its measurements as 74 by 60 cm. (rather than 81 by 54 cm.), thus making it of almost identical size to the present work. Although it may be unlikely, it is perhaps conceivable that the yellow cover, seen to the right of the present picture and the yellow/green pillows could have been described as the 'yellow material' covering the bed. If this was so, and if the dimensions given by the Goncourts for the picture in the De Ghendt sale are correct, it may be possible to associate the present picture with the one in the De Ghendt sale. In the absence of any other known versions of the composition, it is possible to speculate further that Fragonard painted only the present version of this picture, which was in the Hall collection in 1778, the De Ghendt collection in 1779, and then in the Dubois collection until offered for sale unsuccessfully in 1784, but sold in the Dubois sale of the following year.
1. See P. Rosenberg, Fragonard, exhibition catalogue, Paris 1987, p. 232-35, cat. no. 110, reproduced in color.
2. Ibid., p. 234.
3. See the Hall inventory, 10 May 1778: 'List of my pictures with the prices I gave for them': Deux Femmes sur un lit. 200 livres; see G. Wildenstein, under Literature, p. 264, cat. no. 291.
4. Wildenstein, op. cit., p. 264, cat. no. 292.
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