In the 1920s, the South of France - the Midi - became a haven for international travellers, artists, film-makers and writers. Entranced by the bright sunlight and strong colours of towns and landscape, painters such as Bonnard, Matisse, Dufy and Picasso settled on the Cote d’Azur. The town of Grasse, with its centuries-old tradition of perfume-making, was a particularly desirable destination, and, not long after moving to the Midi in 1917, Leech made his way there. Just a decade before, a statue commemorating the eighteenth-century painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard had been erected on Clavecin terrace, overlooking the town. Fragonard was born in Grasse, and during the French revolution had fled Paris, moving back to his home town, where he painted a series of canvases that are now one of the treasures of the Frick Museum. Sculpted by Auguste Maillard in 1906, the statue of Fragonard stands some four metres high. In Leech’s day, it was protected by a wrought iron railing, and surrounded with aloe plants, palms, and deciduous trees; in more recent years the railing has been removed. Leech may have chosen the subject for purely visual reasons, but he was probably also aware that Fragonard, whose grand-daughter was the painter Berthe Morisot, was held in high regard by the Impressionists.
For his painting, Leech chose a characteristic vantage point, from an upper level, looking through the leaves of an aloe plant, down towards the terrace, on which green park benches are arranged in a semi-circle around the statue. The exotic plants, and dappled light falling on the terrace, attracted Leech, and he captured the bright colours, saturated with sunshine, with great sensitivity in this painting. Statue of Fragonard at Grasse can be linked to other paintings by Leech from the same period, where he depicted the aloe, using its succulent cactus-like leaves to create strong curving lines in compositions.