These seven heads freely executed with the brush - an eighth showing a man with a wig is rapidly sketched in black chalk - represent an allegory of the different stages of life: from the newborn baby to the very old woman, two figures which Fragonard has purposely placed side by side. The composition is centred around a beautiful woman, as if for Fragonard the stages of human life revolve around idealized feminine beauty.
In the years around 1765, Fragonard had already executed drawings showing an accumulation of heads, which were executed in black chalk only, and which aimed to depict a variety of expressions (Fragonard, exh. cat., Paris, Louvre, 2003, nos. 10-13). Such a composition recalls drawings by Giovanni Battista and Giandomenico Tiepolo, whom Fragonard greatly admired and who in their drawings also favoured the brush. At around the same time as Fragonard made this drawing, the Bolognese painter Gaetano Gandolfi made a speciality of producing drawings in pen and brown ink showing a large number of heads.
None of the heads depicted in the present drawing reappears exactly in other drawings or paintings by Fragonard, and they seem to be more idealizations than portraits. However the young woman in the centre is very close to the elegant lady in TL'Artiste (Paris, Louvre), one of the artist's celebrated Figures de fantaisie. Traditionally seen as representing Mademoiselle Guimard, this masterpiece has recently been identified as a portrait of Marie-Eléonore de Grave (1730-1807) thanks to the reapppearance of a drawing by Fragonard showing sketches of some of his Figures de fantasie inscribed with the names of the sitters (C. Blumenfeld, Une facétie de Fragonard, Les révélations d'un dessin retrouvé, Paris, 2012, p. 22).
As noted by Eunice Williams (op. cit.), 'the smooth, fluent style of applying the washes places the The seven ages of life in the 1770s, the period when Fragonard seems to have found his personal style of drawing with brush and wash.' The virtuosity in the use of the wash, and the exceptional skill at conveying life to the figures make this drawing a fascinating counterpart to the Figures de fantaisie painted circa 1769.