Comte de Reilhac collection, 1889;
Eugène Kraemer collection, before 1913;
His sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit (Maîtres Lair, Dubreuil, & Baudoin), 28-29 April 1913, lot 20, reproduced;
S. Grencer collection, Paris, before 1933;
His sale, Paris, Galerie Charpentier (Maître Beaudoin), 27 March 1933, lot 23, reproduced;
Anonymous sale, Paris, Palais d’Orsay, 28 March 1979, lot 164, for FF. 1,700,000;
Anonymous sale, Paris, Etude Tajan, 12 December 1995, lot 101, for FF. 8,200,000 (=£1,025,000), where purchased by the present owner.
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Chardin et Fragonard, 1907, no. 112.
R. Portalis, L’œuvre de Fragonard, Paris 1889, pp. 222 and 282, reproduced p. 126;
P. de Nolhac, Jean Honoré Fragonard, Paris 1906, p. 121 (82 by 54 cm.);
A. Dayot & L. Vaillat, L’œuvre de Jean Baptiste Siméon Chardin et de Jean Honoré Fragonard, Paris, 1907, no. 112, reproduced;
G. Wildenstein, The Paintings of Fragonard, Bath 1960, p. 264, cat. no. 291 or 292;
D. Wildenstein, L’opera completa di Fragonard, Milan 1972, cat. no. 309, reproduced;
Advertisement in Connoisseur, March 1979, p. 27, reproduced;
J.P. Cuzin, Fragonard, vie et oeuvre, Paris 1982, p. 298, cat. no. 202, reproduced;
P. Rosenberg, Tout l’œuvre peint de Fragonard, Paris 1989, cat. no. 259, reproduced.
This remarkably fresh and spontaneous picture is one of the finest of Fragonard’s rare, intimate genre scenes. Painted circa 1770, when he was at the height of his powers, it demonstrates to the full his virtuoso technique, which so impressed his contemporaries and which was to prove hugely influential to successive generations of artists.
Two girls are seen playing on a sumptuously caparisoned bed, beneath a canopy, with a mirror behind. One girl lies down, holding her pet dog, whilst the other stands, playfully encouraging hers to dance. The scene is both intimate and risqué, and bears similarities with a small number of pictures painted by Fragonard around 1770 which, like the present work, were almost certainly intended to be hung in a boudoir. In spirit and in handling the painting has much in common with Fragonard’s Young Girl in her bed, making her dog dance (erroneously called 'La Gimblette') of circa 1768 in Munich (see fig. 1).1 The Munich picture exists in a number of other versions that have been attributed to Fragonard, some of which were engraved by Berony with an inscription addressed to the print dealers of the eighteenth century; "This subject should not be displayed" (Rosenberg, loc. cit.), demonstrating that pictures such as this could easily shock contemporary sensibilities. The Goncourts’ assessment of the girl in the Munich picture as ‘a flower of eroticism, very fresh and very French’,2 suggests that the subject of the present work is likely to have been viewed in the same way by Fragonard’s more sophisticated contemporaries.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this picture is the free, assured handling of the paint and its sketch-like quality. As Pierre Rosenberg has observed, it is clear from 18th-century sale catalogues and surviving texts that Fragonard’s contemporaries were amazed by his technique (op. cit., p. 19). Many of the artist’s paintings that we consider today as finished works of art would often have appeared to the 18th-century eye as sketches, studies and preliminary ideas. The commentary of the expert in the foreword to the Varanchan de Saint-Geniès sale demonstrated how the artist’s works were seen. After singing the praises of Boucher, the expert noted, "one will be pleased to see many preliminiary sketches by one of his pupils [i.e. Fragonard], who has become famous without resembling him…. Carefully finished pictures may give pleasure in the ordinary way, but there is a certain class of art lovers that finds supreme enjoyment in a single sketch; they look for the thoughts and soul of the man of genius, which they know how to see and recognise" (quoted by Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 20). In other words, it was the artist’s brushwork that was a source of surprise. There was already an appreciation for such painterly qualities in works by the Old Masters, in particular the sketches of Rubens, but a distinction had always been made between the sketch – the première pensée – and the finished composition. As Rosenberg puts it, "Fragonard abolished this distinction; he raised the sketch to the rank of a finished painting – a work of art in its own right" (loc. cit.).
The early provenance of the picture is unclear. 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 (op. cit., p. 264, no. 292), 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, 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.5 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 one 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. Oil on canvas, 89 by 70 cm.; Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Collection Beyerische Hypotheken-und Wechsel-Bank, HuW 35; see P. Rosenberg, Fragonard, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Grand Palais, 24 September 1987 - 4 January 1988, and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2 February - 8 May 1988, pp. 232-5, no. 110, reproduced in colour.
2. Goncourt, p. 275; cited in Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 232, under cat. no. 110.
3. Hall inventory, 10 May 1778, ‘List of my pictures with the prices I gave for them’: Deux Femmes sur un lit. 200 livres; Dubois sale, 31 March-5 April 1784, lot 132; see G. Wildenstein, under Literature, p. 264, no. 291.
4. 20 December 1785, lot 102; Wildenstein, op. cit., p. 264, no. 292;
5. E. and J. Goncourt, L'Art du XVIIIe siècle, Paris 1906, vol. III, p. 33.
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