Come back when I’ve finished the chapter … or maybe the book

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732 - 1806 ), Young Girl Reading, c. 1770, oil on canvas, Gift of Mrs. Mellon Bruce in memory of her father, Andrew W. Mellon

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732 – 1806 ), Young Girl Reading, c. 1770, oil on canvas (overall: 81.1 x 64.8 cm (31 15/16 x 25 1/2 in.). Gift of Mrs. Mellon Bruce in memory of her father, Andrew W. Mellon

I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember, and this painting captures the emotion I associate with it—utter absorption and bright light, even if the day is dark or the book is melancholy.

Fragonard (1732-1806), one of the greatest artists of the Rococo period, is famous for his frivolous, erotic subjects, delicate colors, and lively brushwork. When the Impressionists (a century later) used loose brushstrokes, they often blotted out texture for the sake of showing the play of light. Fragonard’s loose brushstrokes suggest the play of light, but also the different textures of face, hair, dress, pillow, and wall. If you use the zoom function on the National Gallery’s site, you can see that the texture of the ruff around her neck was scratched in with the end of a paintbrush. Contemporaries called Fragonard’s painting style the “swordplay of the brush.” It makes me think of Rubens and John Singer Sargent.

If you like this, there are art prints available.

What I’ll look for next time I see it

  • The textures and the light, and what the colors actually are. Reproductions online vary widely (for example, this one vs. this one), and I no longer remember which are accurate.

More

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About Dianne L. Durante

I constantly seek out art that's inspiring, thought-provoking, skillfully executed, and/or beautiful so I can share it (in jargon-free language) with others who need and enjoy such art, but don't have time to search for it themselves. As an independent scholar, writer, and lecturer, I focus on art history and history, with forays into food, history, politics, and publishing. My most recent projects are three volumes on Alexander Hamilton, Central Park: The Early Years, Innovators in Sculpture (a survey of 5,000 years of art in 2 hours), and two videoguide apps by Guides Who Know. Click on the Books & Essays tab for a list of all books. For upcoming projects, see my Patreon page.

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