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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Alexandre-Évariste Fragonard

Aretino in the Studio of Tintoretto, Alexandre Evariste Fragonard
Having taught art at all levels--kindergarten through college--I would be the first to defend the premise that art talent and proclivities tend to run in families. That being said, such artistic predisposition also tends to be more than a little erratic. Strangely enough, I've seldom found it to be passed on from father to son despite the number of art families I've encountered in studying the past in which fathers routinely trained one or more of their children in their art. However that was often more an economic decision imposed upon the offspring rather than one based on the child's interests or ability.
The Swing, 1767, Jean Honor Fragonard
If you know much about French art from around two-hundred years ago, then the name Fragonard should sound familiar. Jean-Honoré Fragonard was a French painter of the late Rococo period whose work was notable for his remarkable facility, exuberance, and hedonism. Born in 1732 he died in 1806. He was a student of the 18th-century French painters, Francois Boucher and Jean-Siméon Chardin, his most famous painting being The Swing (above), from 1767. Fragonard's wife, Marie-Anne, was a painter of miniatures as was their daughter, Rosalie, who died in 1788 at the age of nineteen. The couple also had a son, Alexandre-Evariste, born in 1780. He died in 1850, but not before becoming a talented painter and sculptor in his own right.
A doting father or simply a convenient model? The
boy would appear to be about ten or twelve in the
hand-drawn tondo, which was the final image of
Alexandre Evariste Fragonard I could find.
Given the fact that young Alexandre had such a broad range of talent in his family background, it's unlikely his father had to twist the boy's arm to interest him in following the family's artistic traditions. With his father as his initial source of training the boy seems to have had something of a head start insofar as his peers were concerned. Of course, having the great Jacques-Louis David as his subsequent painting master didn't hurt either. Strangely, I could find not a single self-portrait of the artist; but then, his portrait-painting father, seems to have more than made up for this lacking, at least during his son's formative years (above).
Francois I with Leonardo da Vinci, Alexandre Evariste Fragonard
Other than an apparent sharing of natural talent and creative zeal, art history doesn't record much about the Fragonard father-son relationship. As with many such family art duos, one artist tends to outshine the other, and in this case, Jean-Honor, the father, has volumes written about his work while his son, though quite technically adept, barely survives as a footnote. In fact, few of the son's paintings even rate a notation as to the year in which they were completed. Therefore, don't assume any chronology as to what order you see them in here.
The Battle of Marignan, Alexandre Evariste Fragonard
Having been taught by his father and by David, young Alexandre was, nonetheless, an artist of a different era. Whereas his father represented the epitome of the Rococo; his son came of age as an artist during the height of the Neo-classical era in French art. He attracted notice at an early age. His drawings were considered the equal of Jean-Baptiste Isabey and of Hilaire Ledru. He made his debut at the Salon of 1793 with Timoleon Sacrificing his Brother. Later he exhibited genre subjects similar to those of J. A. Vallin and Jean-Baptiste Mallet, which were frequently reproduced in prints. During the Revolution he produced several allegories, such as La République Française. His drawings reflect the art tastes of the Empire period (Napoleonic era), which are Neo-classical in composition making use of high-contrast lighting effects (below).

Le Massacre of the Niobides by Hellip, Attributed to Alexandre-Evariste Fragonard.
During the early 1800s, Alexandre Fragonard developed an official career as a sculptor and painter. He took part in a competition for La Paix d'Amiens in 1801, after which he received several commissions. He sculpted the pediment of the Palais Bourbon in Paris which was destroyed in the Revolution of 1830. In 1810 Alexandre Fragonard was commissioned to paint trompe-l'oel grisailles to decorate the Salle des Gardes and the salon behind the peristyle (now also destroyed). Alexandre's son, Theo, also developed a career as sculptor and painter during the Empire period. Apparently art in the Fragonard family ran as deep as it did wide.

The Three Graces, Alexandre Evariste Fragonard

Queen Elizabeth Bidding Farewell to
her Sons, Alexandre Evariste Fragonard


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