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Fragonard and the revival of the "Fête Galante"

Fragonard in love.

Fragonard and the revival of the "Fête Galante"

Fragonard and the revival of the "Fête Galante"

Published at 14 December 2015
The years 1760 to 1780 witnessed a progressive decline in the values of libertinism...

The considerable success of La Nouvelle Héloïse (1761) by Rousseau cemented the triumph of a form of moralist sentimentalism. In 1770, a disciple of Rousseau, Claude-Joseph Dorat (1734-1780), delivered a violent diatribe against libertism. He countered it with a sincere and tender version of love. According to him, this love, which "developthrough respect", grows from a retrospective look towards the gallant love and romance of the Grand Siècle: "This business of tender sentiments, delicate care and veiled pleasure that the other century still recognised." Fragonard drew inspiration from this same "gallant" source to depict his intriguing Music Lesson, in which fancy costumes evoke the "Grand Siècle". But it was not until he met Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) that his art began to change direction.

Fragonard revived the genre of "fêtes galantes", or courtship parties, that Watteau had invented, to the point of rediscovering his unique spirit which combined amused distance with suggested eroticism. This work of updating himself seems to have reached a peak of refinement and sophistication with the series The Progress of love, painted in 1771-1772 for the Comtesse Du Barry (1743-1793), the favourite of King Louis XV. To the evocation of these "fêtes galantes", Fragonard added the most modern and fragrant touches: the picturesque garden and the fashion for fairy tales. Chief among this style of work is the masterpiece The Island of Love, which irrevocably blends these two concepts in a fictional garden, a space with an enchanted eros.











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