Le baiser! Voilà encore l'un des sujets favoris du peintre, la note caractéristique des compositions de son beau temps, car la caresse mutuelle de bouches jeunes et fraîches est comme une attraction involontaire pour son pinceau.
(Baron Portalis, Honoré Fragonard, sa vie et son oeuvre, Paris, 1889).
There is no subject which better epitomizes Fragonard's art than 'The Kiss'. From the tenderness of a maternal embrace to the passionate kiss exchanged by two lovers, Fragonard represents it in many forms. Another close-up treatment of the subject, similar to that in the present drawing, appears in a celebrated oval painting in a French private collection, executed circa 1766-68 (P. Rosenberg, 1987-88, op. cit., no. 145), while larger compositions showing lovers in an interior appear in Le baiser volé and L'Enjeu perdu ou le baiser gagné, both in the Hermitage, Saint Petersburg (Fig. 1).
In the present drawing, 'the close-up composition and bold, free brushwork heighten the immediacy and suddenness of the action. The dark brown washes remain transparent enough to reveal the equally broad and confident underdrawing.' (E. Williams, op. cit., p. 112). The passion and dynamism of the drawing is close in spirit, if not in subject, to two other dramatic moments of arrested movement: La gifle, in the Musée Fabre, Montpellier (inv. 864.2.62; A. Ananoff, op. cit., no. 101) and L'attaque, in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow (inv. 5635; P. Rosenberg, op. cit., no. 250). In all three drawings Fragonard has captured a glimpse - one might almost say a snapshot - of vigorous movement. The sensation is heightened by the poses of the figures in these works, where no one stands straight, but instead reaches, curves, ducks and sways, and by Fragonard's loose, sweeping lines and fluid washes. The three drawings have similar dimensions and and were probably executed by Fragonard not long after his returm from Italy in 1774.