Jean-Honoré Fragonard ( 1732 - 1806): The Love Letter

Jean-Honoré Fragonard ( 1732 - 1806): The Love Letter

3/18/2021, 4:26:30 PM
Jean-Honoré Fragonard ( 1732 - 1806): The Love Letter, early 1770s, Oil on canvas, 83.2 x 67 cm, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City 'The Love Letter' has occasionally been identified as a portrait but probably it is not, as Fragonard makes no attempt to describe the features of an individual but instead, working at speed, presents a scenario. A young woman in a boudoir, seated on a stool at her writing desk before an oculus window, has addressed a card to a gentleman and inserts it into a bouquet of flowers wrapped in a paper cone. The message cannot be read with any degree of certainty but may have been: to monsieur my cavalier . . . . The theatrical aspect of the scene is emphasized by the focused light as well as by the way the intimate view is surrounded by curtains. The lady looks over her shoulder, as if at someone entering. Her hair is dressed smoothly under a muslin cap with pink ribbons. She wears lace cuffs painted in a flurry of white strokes with a robe, or rather a coat, à la française, which is pleated at the back just below the neckline before falling into soft loose folds around her. Her white face is heavily made up. Close beside her is a white dog with fluffy, silky ears. Finish is a relative term in Fragonard’s paintings. Here, over a brown tone, the artist seems to sketch with the tip of his brush energetic strokes of varying thickness that capture sunlight that lands at the center of the canvas, along the woman’s cap, powdered face, flowers, dress, and dog. This painting should not be read as a portrait, but as a genre scene that takes up a key eighteenth-century theme, the love letter, in which the appreciation of the work is as much about how Fragonard paints as what he depicts. (Metmuseum)

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