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Property of an American Collector

Ruggiero desperately seeking Angelica everywhere (Orlando furioso, XI, 6-9)

Ruggiero desperately seeking Angelica everywhere (Orlando furioso, XI, 6-9)
black chalk, brown and gray wash, watermark anchor in a circle
15 ½ x 10 in. (39.4 x 25.5 cm)
Probably the artist’s family.
Hippolyte Walferdin (1795-1880), Paris; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 12-16 April 1880, lot 228.
Louis Roederer (1845-1880), Reims; by descent to his nephew
Léon Olry-Roederer (1870-1932), Reims and Paris.
with Thos. Agnew and Sons, London 1922; acquired en bloc by
Abraham Simon Wolf Rosenbach (1876-1952), Philadelphia, until 1952; acquired from his estate by
John Fleming (1910-1987), New York and Larchmont; sold in 1955 to an
American private collector.
with Thos. Agnew and Sons, London.
E. Mongan, P. Hofer and J. Seznec, Fragonard. Drawings for Ariosto, London, 1945, p. 70, plate 71.
M.T. Caracciolo, ‘Lectures de l’Arioste au XVIIIe siècle: du livre illustré au cycle peint’ Gazette des Beaux-Arts, CXXXVI, sixth period, CXXIII, no. 1502, March, 1994, p. 144, fig. 33.
M.-A. Dupuy-Vachey, Fragonard et le Roland Furieux, Paris, 2003, p. 222, no. 97, ill.
Boston, Museum of Fine Arts, Splendor and Elegance. European Decorative Arts and Drawings from the Horace Wood Brock Collection, 2009, no. 84, ill. (essay by C. S. Ackley).

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Lot Essay

Jean-Honoré Fragonard devoted himself several times in his career to the creation of illustrations of literary texts, ranging from works by Miguel de Cervantes (Don Quixote) to Jean de La Fontaine (Les Contes) to Ludovico Ariosto (Orlando furioso). Influenced by the literary style of each author, Fragonard adapted his manner of drawing to the style of the written texts, revealing a great intelligence and profound understanding of the spirit of the stories he was illustrating. Significantly, however, none of those projects were brought to completion and, since no documents relative to any of these enterprises survive, we do not know for whom and for what purpose the artist undertook these series of illustrations (M.-A. Dupuy-Vachey, ‘Fragonard as Illustrator’, in P. Stein, Fragonard Drawing Triumphant. Works from New York Collections, exhib. cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016-2017, p. 242). Towards the end of his career, around 1780, Fragonard produced the extraordinary number of at least 179 drawings, all rapidly sketched primi pensieri, based on the epic poem Orlando furioso by Ariosto (1474-1533), a poet who spent his entire life and career in the service of the Este court in Ferrara. Orlando furioso is a chivalric poem that narrates, as stated by Arioso himself in the opening verses of the preface, the stories of knights and ladies, of love and arms, of chivalry, and of courageous deeds. The poem mixes together realism and fantasy, humor and tragedy, history and magic. It is not known whether Fragonard embarked on the ambitious project for his own pleasure or in the hope of obtaining a commission for an illustrated printed edition.

At Fragonard’s death the series was held by his family in Grasse until it was acquired by the great collector of French 18th Century art, Hippolyte Walferdin. By 1928 many of the sheets had been sold individually or in small groups and are now dispersed in public and private collections. Twelve other drawings from the group were sold at Christie’s, New York, 28 January 2021, lots 40-52.

In this sheet the hero Ruggiero is depicted running around, searching madly for Angelica who had vanished. The main elements of the composition are loosely drawn in black chalk applied in a whirlwind of intricate and twisted lines that powerfully convey the intricateness of the forest and of Ruggiero’s feelings. Over the chalk a layer of gray and brown wash creates effects of light and shade and provides a sense of depth and relief to the dramatic scene.

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