• Old Masters auction at Christies

    Sale 12109

    Old Masters

    26 October 2016, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 97

    Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Grasse 1732-1806 Paris)

    ‘L’Amour’: said to be a Portrait of Marie Catherine Colombe (1751-1830) as Cupid

    Estimate

    Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Grasse 1732-1806 Paris)
    ‘L’Amour’: said to be a Portrait of Marie Catherine Colombe (1751-1830) as Cupid
    oil on canvas, oval
    22 x 18 1/8 in. (55.8 x 45.9 cm.)


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    L’Amour is one of a series of bust-length decorations of seductive young models, usually in allegorical guise, a vein that Fragonard had been working successfully throughout the 1770s: in addition to L’Amour, a Buste de jeune fille in the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard (Cuzin, op. cit., no. 219), and another in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (Cuzin, op. cit., no. 230), there are at least a dozen similar pictures known today (Cuzin, op. cit., nos. 218-224, 227, 228). As with the present painting, most of these have been dubiously identified as depicting one or other of the three Colombe sisters, the beautiful Venetian-born actresses who appeared in the Comédie italienne during the final years of the Ancien Régime and were among the more celebrated demi-mondaines of their era. Rather than actual portraits, the subjects of these pictures are fictive creations that served as emblems of the joyfulness, vivacity and inviting sensuality that were hallmarks of a popular reputation that the Colombe sisters made great efforts to cultivate.

    L’Amour dates from the mid-1770s, a period when the mature Fragonard first began experimenting with neoclassical imagery – here, a feminine-looking ephebe portrayed as Cupid is evoked in a simple and emphatic outline that is rendered less severe with the application of thin, limpid washes of glowing color. While the identification of L’Amour as Marie-Catherine Colombe is speculative at best, the association of the celebrated courtesan with the God of Love would be typical of Fragonard’s irreverent sense of humor, and would necessitate the delicate grace with which the artist imbued this most seductive of his works.

    Provenance

    Private collection, near Grasse, by 1889.
    Mrs. Barlow Webb, Holmdale, Holmbury St. Mary; (†), Sotheby's, London, 12 December 1934, lot 24B, as 'Diana' and part of a pair.
    Acquired in 1937 by the present owner.


    Literature

    H. Peyre, 'Logic and Passion', Art News, XLVI, no. 12, February 1948, pp. 32, 51.
    Antiques, October 1952, p. 284.
    Connoisseur, December 1959, p. 182.
    G. Wildenstein, The Paintings of Fragonard, London, 1960, p. 291, no. 419; also cited under no. 418, fig. 178.
    J. Cailleux, 'Fragonard as Painter of the Colombe Sisters' Burlington Magazine, CII, no. 690, September 1960, p. vii and n. 45.
    R. Guilly, 'Jean-Honoré Fragonard', Kindlers Malerei Lexikon, II, Zurich, 1965, p. 423.
    The Connoisseur, CLXI, no. 650, April 1966, p. 252, fig. 3.
    F. Boucher, Fragonard, Paris, 1966, p. 13.
    D. Wildenstein and G. Mandel, L'Opera completa di Fragonard, Milan, 1972, p. 105, no. 441.
    J.-P. Cuzin, Jean-Honoré Fragonard: vie et oeuvre, catalogue complet des peintures, Fribourg, 1987, pp. 237, 303, no. 225, fig. 297.
    P. Rosenberg, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Fragonard, Paris, 1989, p. 97, no. 239.
    A. Molotiu, Fragonards Allegories of Love, Los Angeles, 2007, pp. 110-111, fig. 75.
    J.-P. Cuzin and D. Salmon, Fragonard / regards croisés, Paris, 2007, pp. 89, 90, 201, 202, 228, n. 54, fig. 125.


    Exhibited

    New York, Wildenstein, Five Centuries of Ballet, 1575-1944, 13 April-13 May 1944, no. 113.
    New York, Wildenstein, French XVIIIth Century Paintings, 1948, no. 14.
    Houston, Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Twenty Masters of Painting, 14 January-4 February 1951, no. 7.
    Houston, Allied Arts Association, Masterpieces of Painting through Six Centuries, 16-27 November 1952, no. 40.
    London, Wildenstein, Important Paintings of the French XVIII Century, 21 March-28 April 1956, no. 39.
    London, Wildenstein, Important Paintings and Drawings by Continental Masters, XVIth-XXth Centuries, 8 June-29 July 1960, no. 24.
    London, Wildenstein, Portraits 15th to 19th Centuries, 10 July-10 August 1963, no. 29.
    Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art; Kyoto, Municipal Museum, Fragonard, 18 March-29 June 1980, no. 66.