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December 21, 2008

The Progress of Love: The Pursuit

The Progress of Love is a group of four canvas paintings by Fragonard. The commission came from Madame Du Barry, between 1770 and 1773, to adorn the walls of her pavilion at Louveciennes. This set of paintings are extra fun because, Du Barry decided she did not want them after Fragonard had already created them. There are theories why she decided to refuse them but the most fun is that all the male figures in the paintings resembled King Louis XV! I am sure that there were other reasons - besides, everyone knew she was his favorite anyway!

He kept the works at his cousin's place, and today they are on display at The Frick (which I can not recommend enough!) Unfortunately they are not displayed as they were intended to be, but they are still just as fabulous!

The Pursuit is set, along with the other panels, in a pleasure garden. The exact place we all wish we could hang out, all day, everyday! Highlighted by warm sunlight, three young girls lay before a fountain at play. Our leading lady sees the boy to the right, who is hidden behind a garden element and camouflaged by his pale clothing.

In an exaggerated action, the girl makes a run for it. And by it, I do not mean she runs for the boy, she is escaping! Her body twist severely and her arms are thrown upwards, her dress and ribbon become caught up around her in the sudden movement.

The garden, particularly the trees in the background mimic this sudden dash. Branches, weighed down by heavy green leafage, create dramatic diagonals that lead the upward and to the right. A particular tree bends over the top of the fountain, framing this element. Which leads me to her companions.

Her companions stay at her feet, and they lay/sit in clumsy positions. Their positions reflect those of the two putti in the upper part of the fountain. This happens between figures and statues in the other canvases too. These little guys are awkwardly forced to twist and turn as they try to cling on to their subject (a whale or fish? You can fill me in on that one). The girls companions here, however do not appear to cling, but rather push the subject off- the three of them opponents to the suitor. The Pursuit is all action and surprise!

The suitor really does not deserve this treatment! He is polished and amiable. He is not hard on the eyes either. And if he is rendered after Louis, well, the we can agree that he wasn't unfortunate in the looks department as a boy! He approaches her, removes his hat and offers her a rose from the garden. His gracious gesture is right in line with courtly etiquette, obviously his mother taught him well. Imagine the game he'll have when he is in his 30's!

Our figures do not seem to have planned their meeting, instead the girls had a play date and were interrupted by the interested boy. A total ambush! In a playful and exciting manner she moves to evade his pursuits, and we see a fun naive moment of love, one sided or not...

The full series:
  1. The Progress of Love: The Pursuit 
  2. The Progress of Love: The Meeting
  3. The Progress of Love: The Lover Crowned
  4. The Progress of Love: The Love Letters

7 comments

  1. Ooo I'm so glad you decided to write about this series! And I actually know the answer to the fishy figure enigma! It is actually a dolphin! This is not to be confused with a porpose. One of the many Disney World resorts is The Dolphin and has giant ones on its roof!

    Thanks for the awesome post!

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  2. Laura: I agree! He is my kind of artist... did what he needed!

    Heather: Merci!
    The putti cling to a dolphin! slipping trying to get away.

    Now...the girl...I still do not think her companions are clinging to her. I alway saw it as 'giving her a boost'
    The play between real/ideal is fun!

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  3. Jean-Honore Fragonard is one of my faves too!!!
    What a beautiful post, both in prose and picture!!! You did it again :) I have heard but I do not for certain, that he would often paint his face on a male subject within his works? Hmm, I wonder if the cutie in this one could be him!
    Judith~

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  4. I just love the Frick and this series is the best!! There are so many other museums in NY that I never get to see because I always have to spend a day there. I'm glad to see so many other Fragonard lovers here. (Though I like the Swing with her lover peering up her skirts. Oh my!!)

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  5. I love this painting! It's so dynamic and playful at the same time.

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  6. Thanks for this post! Part of this series is on the cover of "Through a Glass Darkly" and I always wondered what it was from. Well now I know :)

    And Heather thanks for clearing that up, I stayed at The Dolphin, I should have picked up on that.

    Lovely work

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