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    Sale 11933

    Old Masters: Part I

    14 April 2016, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

  • Lot 145

    Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Grasse 1732-1806 Paris)

    The Rest on the Flight into Egypt

    Price Realised  

    Estimate

    Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Grasse 1732-1806 Paris)
    The Rest on the Flight into Egypt
    oil on canvas, in a painted oval
    22 x 17 ¾ in. (55.8 x 45.2 cm.)


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    Best known for his erotic and libertine cabinet pictures, Fragonard was also a gifted and active painter of religious subjects, especially at the start of his career. Having been admitted into Chardin’s workshop, where he learned the rudiments of painting, Fragonard soon applied to study under François Boucher. Fragonard was never to train formally at the Academy, but Boucher’s tutelage was enough to guide him to victory in the Prix de Rome in 1752 with Jeroboam Sacrificing to the Idols (Paris, Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts, Paris), an exceptionally accomplished picture in the grand manner. During the four years that Fragonard spent at the Ecole des Elèves Protégés, before leaving for Rome at the end of 1754, he benefitted from the instruction of its director, Carle Vanloo, and painted one of his few documented early works, The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet (1755; Cathedral of Grasse), which was commissioned by the town fathers of Grasse and presented to Louis XV the following year. He was almost certainly also asked at the same time to paint the monumental, horizontal altarpiece, Rest on the Flight into Egypt (private collection, Paris) to hang in a chapel of the Cathedral of Grasse, his hometown.

    Two small paintings of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt (one in the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm; the other in a private collection), both sketchy, fluent and free in their brushwork, may have been made as preparatory studies for the horizontal altarpiece. These sketches reveal the qualities that characterize Fragonard’s production of the 1750s: the distinctive palette of sharp pinks, strong reds, cold blues, and brassy yellows – deriving perhaps as much from Restout as from Boucher – as well as sparkling effects of light and shimmering draperies. The composition of the present painting differs significantly from that of the altarpiece, and it seems to be a finished, independent work; nevertheless, it shares the same palette and qualities of handling with the aforementioned sketches, and must likewise date from around 1754, immediately before Fragonard’s departure for Rome. Already, even at this initial stage in his career, when he would still have been in his early ‘20s, Fragonard displays the creamy painting technique, dynamic (if somewhat irrational) spatial sense, rhythmic ease within an oval format, and brilliantly virtuoso brushwork that were to be his hallmarks. In all likelihood, it was the artist’s extraordinarily free handling that attracted the first known owner of the painting, the industrialist and collector Henri Rouart (1833-1912), one of the earliest patrons of Degas and the Impressionists.

    The story of Mary and Joseph fleeing Palestine into Egypt to escape King Herod’s wrath and save the newborn Christ from certain death was often depicted in European painting from the Renaissance onward, but is only briefly recounted in the Gospel of Matthew (2:1-15). The more embellished accounts to which artists often referred for guidance appear in the Apocrypha and in the writings of medieval theologians. For most painters, the subject was an excuse to depict landscape; Fragonard, however, eschews the landscape setting entirely, focusing exclusively on the intimate bonds of the Holy Family. In the painting, the Child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, sleeps in his crib while his Mother covers his cradle to shelter him from the elements; gently, Joseph feeds and pets the donkey as it rests, grateful that it carried them such a long distance. Throughout his career, Fragonard returned again and again to the subject of happy or contented families and even here, the artist preferred to express feelings of tender concern and family affection over the drama of exile and flight.

    Provenance

    Henri Rouart (1833-1912); (†), Galerie Manzi-Joyant, Paris, 9-11 December 1912, lot 37 (FF82,500 to Chaliva).
    Ernest Rouart (1874-1942).
    Private collection, Paris, by 1954.
    with Galerie Heim, Paris (according to a label on the reverse).
    with Wildenstein, New York, where acquired by the present owner.


    Pre-Lot Text

    PROPERTY OF A DISTINGUISHED EUROPEAN COLLECTOR


    Literature

    A. Alexandre, 'La Collection de M. Henri Rouart', Les Arts, III, April 1902, pp. 18, 20.
    A. Alexandre, 'La Collection Henri Rouart', Les Arts, CXXXI, November 1912, pp. 4, 18.
    A. Alexandre, La Collection Henri Rouart, Paris, 1912, pp. 27, 57.
    A. Boutillier du Retail, 'Un Fragonard à Troyes', Annuaire de l’Aube, 1912, II, pp. 19, 23.
    G. Wildenstein, 'L’Exposition Fragonard au Pavillon de Marsan', La Renaissance de l’Art Français, July 1921, p. 357.
    G. Grappe, La Vie et l'Oeuvre de J.H. Fragonard, Monaco, 1946, p. 37.
    G. Wildenstein, The Paintings of Fragonard, New York, 1960, pp. 195-197, no. 24, fig. 15.
    D. Wildenstein and G. Mandel, L’Opera completa di Fragonard, Milan, 1972, pp. 86-87, no. 25.
    J-P. Cuzin, Jean-Honoré Fragonard : Vie et œuvre: Catalogue complet des peintures, Fribourg and Paris, 1987, p. 264, no. 23.
    P. Rosenberg, Fragonard, Paris, 1987, exhibition catalogue, p. 57, under no. 10, fig. 6.
    P. Rosenberg, Tout l’œuvre peint de Fragonard, Paris, 1989, p. 73, no. 24..


    Exhibited

    Paris, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Pavillon de Marsan, Exposition d’œuvres de J.-H. Fragonard, June-July 1921, no. 12.
    Paris, Petit Palais, La Vierge dans l’art français, 1950, no. 79.
    Bern, Kunstmuseum, Fragonard, 13 June-29August 1954, no. 4.
    London, Heim Gallery, French Paintings & Sculptures of the 18th Century: Winter Exhibition, 1968, no. 25.