Fragonard's charming painting of Love as Folly
, along with its traditional pendant, Love the Sentinel
, are beloved compositions that the artist returned to throughout his career. Indeed they are associated with one of his most celebrated series of paintings, The Progress of Love
, today in the Frick Collection in New York (see below). These amusing depictions of the youthful Cupid were engraved in color by Jean François Janinet in 1777 and widely distributed, bolstering their fame as some of the artist's most popular subjects.
In Love as Folly,
Cupid dances carefree in a garden, past flowering rosebushes and pairs of doves, some of which he seems to have startled. The weightless boy tosses his hands in the air, one raising a stick with a fool's cap on the top. Fragonard's loose brushwork in the drapery as it catches the wind echoes that of the soft pink clouds beyond the figure. The scene is charming and sweet, reminding the viewer that love can make one foolish; it is a perfect compliment to its pendant composition, which features a more coy, and grounded, Cupid, who looks towards the viewer with an arrow in his hand, reminding us that love conquers all (fig. 1).
Given the lighthearted subject matter as well as the quick, painterly style, the various versions of the composition have been traditionally dated to the early 1770s, when Fragonard was working on The Progress of Love
for Madame du Barry. Commissioned in 1771, that series of four canvases was to be displayed in the pavillion built for her by King Louis XV at Louveciennes, near Versailles. For unknown reasons, the paintings were removed and returned to Fragonard less than a year after installation. By 1790 the paintings were moved to Grasse and installed in the home of his cousin, Honoré Maubert; at this time Fragonard, who was also living in Grasse, added seven additional canvases, including four overdoors, to the group to complete the room. One of those four overdoors repeats the composition of Love as Folly
in reverse in a larger, rectangular format.1
The entire Progress of Love
series, including the additions from 1790, are now found in the Frick Collection (fig. 2).
Pierre Rosenberg publishes six known versions of the present composition in its oval format. The prime versions of Love as Folly
and Love the Sentinel
are in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (inv. no. 1970.17.111 and 1970.17.1122).2
Because numerous versions exist, the early provenance of the pictures has often been confused, and scholars have been unable to confirm which version belonged to Leroy de Senneville (see Provenance).3
The current location of the present painting's pendant depicting Love the Sentinel
is unknown; the two paintings were offered as consecutive lots in the 1955 auction (see Provenance), and were acquired by different buyers.
1. Alternatively, Pierre Rosenberg has argued that the four overdoors were executed along with the four main canvases as part of the original commission in the early 1770s, around the same time as the present painting and its various versions (P. Rosenberg, Fragonard, New York 1988, pp. 322-323). René Gimpel believed that Fragonard painted the overdoors as part of the 1790-91 additions and looked back at the engravings of his original compositions, which explains why they are in reverse (See R. Gimpel, in Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Fragonard, E. Gimpel and Wildenstein, New York 1914, pp. 8-9). Most recently, Colin Bailey has further stated that the overdoors were completed in Grasse around 1790 (C. Bailey, Fragonard's Progress of Love, New York, 2011).
2. Formerly in the Rothschild collections and subsequently in the collection of Andrew W. Mellon. See P. Conisbee, French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century at the National Gallery of Art, Washington 2009, cat. nos. 32 and 33, pp. 168-9. The National Gallery also owns a second pair of the compositions, exhibited with Wildenstein and Gimpel in 1914 and formerly in the collection of J. W. Simpson, New York.
3. For more detailed discussions on the early provenance for the six known versions of the painting, see P. Rosenberg under Literature, p. 103 and P. Conisbee, op. cit., p. 171 under note 1.