Historical evidence suggests Du Barry paid for her paintings and upon their return to Fragonard, allowed him to keep both the works and the money. After all, it wasn’t his fault her love with Louis XV floundered with his death or that she could no longer bear to look at the paintings. This account of her refusal is conjecture, of course. No one truly knows why Du Barry opted to use another artist. Some claim Fragonard’s paintings reminded her of her lover, gone, and others say she simply changed her mind, choosing Joseph-Marie Vien, the classical painter, over Fragonard, who embodied the Rococco, a style that fell out of favor with the resurgence of classicism. Out with old, in with the new!
I like the tragic romance story better. Du Barry seems capricious to have rejected the work based on trends, but she was a hated royal mistress and therefore reasonably considered an opportunist.
But let’s get on to Fragonard’s Progress of Love:
Painting #1, The Pursuit
The young lady in pursuit is leaping over a wall, her ladies around her. The lover is beseeching, a rose in hand, while the young lady has a curiously vacant look in her eyes. Her skirts are in wild disarray, her hands outstreched suggesting a flight in earnest. Does she wanted to be courted? Is she coyly interested in this young man? Notice the dark cupids on the upper right corner. They are in half shadow. The dolphin beneath them looks almost serpentine as his mouth pours water into the fountain below.
Painting #2, The Meeting
The young lady appears alarmed, her left arm extended toward her lover–is she about to get caught in the middle of her assignation? The lover is crouched, his hand perched upon a ladder, his knee resting on the balcony. He looks wary, yet less concerned, definitely not enough to leave. The statuary in this piece is a woman and child rather than two cupids in the first painting. Curiously, the child looks as though he’s falling away from his mother, his arms outstretched, his little mouth rounded in panic, while the mother fists the cloth draped around her.
Painting #3, The Love Letters
By far the most idyllic of the four, The Love Letters is sweet, adoring. The lover rests his head on his lady’s shoulder, his posture relaxed. The young lady is still prim, her ankles crossed, but she seems more serene in the glow of his adoration. Again, the statuary is ironic. The cupid is in a panic, reaching for the mother/woman. The woman casts her gaze down at him, disdainful. She’s not going to pick him up. As the encroaching darkness of the trees suggests, their window of love is closing.
Notice the lover’s hand curving around the young lady’s bosom. Her left hand is slung over his shoulder–not exactly amorous in kind. The lover’s expression is ardent, obsessive. The young lady’s is contemplative and yet detached.
Again with the moody statuary here. The statue looks like a fallen angel and is distinctly a man versus a cupid, child, or woman. The young lady is aloof, playful perhaps, but putting on more of a show crowning the lover than basking in his adoration. The lover is arching toward his crown while an artist looks on–hardly an intimate scene. One gets a sense of whimsy. What has she given her lover already? Why is she so aloof? Are her intentions sincere? Are his?
Guess we’ll never know what Fragonard had in mind. He painted the Luviciennes panels at the Chateau, though few were permitted to witness their progress. You can see them today at the Chateau (and online here) in the Salon Fragonard.
Hope you enjoyed!