It was during his four-year stay in Italy that the young Fragonard really discovered the art of landscape drawing. Seeking the best ways of recording the scenery that he encountered on his travels, and also no doubt stimulated by the beauty of the Italian landscape and light, he made a series of magnificent chalk drawings of Italian views which are masterpieces of flickering light and radiant atmosphere.
After returning to France in 1761, Fragonard applied the techniques of landscape drawing that he had developed and mastered in Italy to his native French landscape: in this beautifully preserved drawing, he depicts with great verve and charm a rather chaotic farmyard scene, with its the jumble of poultry, barrels, wheelbarrow, and the roosting platform for the birds, which he wittily contrasts with the elegant castle building standing, serene and grand, in the background.
As Eunice Williams has kindly pointed out, the artist's maturity is evident from the confidence in both handling the medium of red chalk (without black chalk mise-en-page) and in describing complex space with a minimum of strokes. She has also observed: "the strokes are broad and vigorous, creating a generalized energy rather than the tapestry of schemata seen in earlier (1760s) drawings."
To Fragonard, such confidence and control were entirely automatic by the 1770s. In these qualities, the present work can be compared with the three lively views of The Château of Nègrepelisse, near Montauban, which date from October 1773.1 In subject matter, these drawings are also broadly similar. Although this farmyard scene is rather less formally composed and designed than the Nègrepelisse drawings, it clearly represents part of a large country estate, with the main château just visible between the trees. Dr. Williams therefore suggests that the present work should also be dated to the mid-1770s.
A counterproof of the drawing is now in the Rijksmuseum, given by Bernard Houthakker in 1961 (RP-T-1961-53).
1. See Pierre Rosenberg, Fragonard, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Grand Palais, and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987-8, cat.no. 171.
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