Louis Réau (op. cit.) considered this drawing to be among Fragonard’s works after old masters, specifically after Johann Liss’ altarpiece in San Nicola de Tolentino, Venice. However, Perrin Stein recently drew attention to Fragonard’s etched copy after the painting, where the composition is vertical, with the saint almost sitting on top of the lion, and the winged angel standing in front of him (for the print, see P. Stein, Fragonard. Drawing Triumphant. Works from New York Collections, exhib. cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016-2017, no. 22, ill.). The drawn model for the print is no longer known, but was part of the so-called ‘Panopticon’ (P. Rosenberg, Saint-Non, Fragonard. Panopticon italiano. Un diario di viaggio ritrovato 1759-1761, Paris, 2000, no. 216, ill.).
The drawing’s nervous style, the subtle pentimenti in the lion’s head and the quick but confident black chalk sketch underneath the brown wash make clear this is an original work, rather than a copy by the young artist. The lion at right is a fine example of Fragonard’s predilection for large cats, also evident in works such as the profile portrait of a lion in a cage dated around 1770 at the Albertina, Vienna (inv. 12733; see Fragonard. Poesie und Leidenschaft, exhib. cat., Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle, 2013, no. 42, ill.).