- Jean-Honoré Fragonard
- View of an Italianate park with figures, a villa behind
- Brush and brown wash over black chalk, within brown ink framing lines
- 336 by 473 mm
his posthumous sale, 1-19 December 1798, no. 95, 26 livres, bought by Basan fils;
possibly Marquiset Collection, sale, Paris, 27 April 1890, lot 86;
possibly sale, Paris, 24 February 1883, lot 14;
purchased in 1901 by Georges Dormeuil (L.1146a),
thence by descent to the present owners
Recorded in the literature, but without illustration, and not seen in public since its exhibition in Paris in 1921, this grand drawing was until now effectively unknown to modern scholarship, but has a particularly important place among Fragonard’s later Italianate landscapes, as it stands as the key work in an unusually large group of drawings and paintings with the same composition, by Fragonard and his followers. The first of these, chronologically, is a rapid black chalk sketch of the composition, in a private collection1, which must surely be the artist’s first idea for the present wash drawing. It would be appealing to think of this chalk sketch as a study made from nature, from which the later, more elaborate drawing was made in the studio, but in fact the view seems much more likely to be imaginary.
Another, large drawing with the same composition was catalogued by Ananoff as authentic, but is a modern pastiche.2 Returning to Fragonard’s own time, the composition, which was understandably admired, was copied in red chalk by Pierre-Adrien Pâris (1745-1819), in a drawing, now in the Feuillet de Borsat collection in Marseille, that Marianne Roland-Michel identified as a design for opera scenery.3 Pâris, a native of Besançon and a great collector of Fragonard's drawings, worked for the Menus plaisirs beginning in 1784. The same theatrical composition appears in a small oil painting published as by Fragonard by Jean-Pierre Cuzin.4 Finally, another red chalk copy of the composition, which Eunice Williams recognised as the work of Alphonse Nicolas Mandevare, is in the British Museum.5
Technically, this grand yet extremely subtle drawing is something of a tour de force. The underlying chalk drawing is vigorously executed with great speed and energy, the artist scarcely lifting the chalk from the paper, producing almost continuous lines to define trees, broad stairs, and staffage in the foreground. Typically this style is associated not with works of any particular period, but with smaller sketches and croquis, executed throughout Fragonard’s life. On top of this chalk sketch, the composition is built up through carefully modulated touches and dabs of wash, far less dense than those seen in earlier drawings such as lot 57. The combined effect of chalk and wash is supremely animated, charming and atmospheric. Closely comparable in execution are several other large drawings of Roman views, also executed during or very shortly after the artist's second trip to Italy, i.e. around 1774-75, including A Garden near Rome, in the Dutuit Collection, The Umbrella Pines at a Villa near Rome, in Amsterdam, and A Garden with Umbrella Pines in Rome, in Besançon.6
The reappearance after nearly a century of this highly important drawing finally allows the complex group of works that it inspired to be fully understood, and also brings back into the public eye one of the finest of all Fragonard’s later Italian landscape drawings.
We are very grateful to Eunice Williams and other scholars for kindly providing valuable information and comments relating to this drawing.
1. Ananoff, op. cit., no. 2246
2. Ibid., no. 1548, fig. 411; catalogued with the Basan and Marquiset provenance that actually belongs to the present work
3. M. Roland Michel, Maurice et Pauline Feuillet de Borsat, collectionneurs, exhib. cat., Marseille, Musée Borély, 2001, no. 45
4. J.-P. Cuzin, 'Fragonard: quelques nouveautés et quelques questions,' Mélanges en honneur à Pierre Rosenberg, Paris 2001, p. 173, fig. 10
5. Inv. 1942,0711.3
6. Paris, Musée du Petit Palais, inv. Dutuit 965; Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, inv. RP-T-1953-206; Besançon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, inv. D. 2847; for all three, P. Rosenberg, Fragonard, exhib. cat., Paris, Grand Palais, and New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1987-88, nos. 183-185