Jean-Honoré Fragonard was born on April 5, 1732. His talent was spotted when he was 18 by Francois Boucher who handed him off to the great still-life painter Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin for training. After learning about painting light from Chardin, he returned to Boucher and assimilated much of his teacher’s Rococo style. He won the Prix de Rome even before he became a student at the Academy of France in Rome. He became a great favorite of the French court of Louis XV for subject matter that celebrated dalliance and frivolity. His career came to an end with the French Revolution as his wealthy patrons lost their lives or fled the country. He died in 1806 and was almost completely forgotten for decades, even being omitted from encyclopedias of art.
Today’s expression, tomber dans l’oubli (tombay dahn looblee) means to be forgotten, especially with the passage of time. When other artists, including his great-niece Berthe Morisot gave his confident brushstrokes credit for influencing their styles, art experts looked again at Fragonard for his own merits. While I can’t claim that he had a positive influence on my non-existent artistic ability, I grew up with a copy of La Liseuse (The Reader) in my bedroom and I always thought it was extremely beautiful. The original hangs in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. This is just one of over 550 Fragonard works in major collections all over the world, including the Louvre, New York’s Met and Frick, and St. Petersburg’s Hermitage. I would say that Fragonard won’t fall into oblivion again any time soon.