A young girl seated in an interior, leaning against a pillow (‘La Jeune malade’)

A young girl seated in an interior, leaning against a pillow (‘La Jeune malade’)
signed (?) ‘fragonard’ (lower right), and with inscription ‘fragonard fecit’ (lower left on the old mount)
red chalk
13 x 9 in. (32.9 x 22.8 cm)
Louis-Auguste, Baron de Schwiter (1805-1889), Paris (L. 1768); Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 20-21 April 1883, lot 38 (1600 francs).
John Postle Heseltine (1843-1929), London (L. 1508); Sotheby's, London, 27-29 May 1935, lot 276 (£268).
with Arthur Tooth and Sons, London, 1952; where acquired by Sir Clifford Curzon (1907-1982) and Lady Curzon, née Lucille Wallace (1898-1977); then by descent.
R. Portalis, Honoré Fragonard. Sa Vie et son œuvre, Paris, 1889, p. 306.
Drawings by François Boucher, Jean Honoré Fragonard, and Antoine Watteau in the collection of J.P.H., London, 1900, p. 41, no. 5, ill.
F. Lugt, Les Marques de collections de dessins et destampes […], Amsterdam, 1921, p. 318, under no. 1768.
A. Ananoff, L’Œuvre dessiné de Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806). Catalogue raisonné, Paris, 1961-1970, I, no. 182, II, p. 301, fig. 348, IV, p 350.
P. Hattis, Four Centuries of French Drawings in the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 1977, p. 93, under no. 53.
E. Williams, Drawings by Fragonard in North American Collections, exhib. cat., Washington, National Gallery of Art and Cambridge, Fogg Art Museum, 1978-1979, p. 138, under no. 55.
London, Grafton Galleries, A Catalogue of the Pictures and Drawings in the National Loan Exhibition in Aid of National Gallery Funds Held in the Grafton Galleries, 1909-1910, p. 171, no. 93.

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Lot Essay

On its first recorded appearance on the market, at the sale of the collection of the baron de Schwiter in 1883, this little-known masterpiece by Fragonard was titled La Jeune malade (‘The young convalescent’), perhaps reflecting an earlier tradition. As Eunice Williams remarked in 1978, the young woman posing may well have been Rosalie, the artist’s beloved daughter, who was born in 1769 (op. cit., p. 138). While she has been recognized in many works by – or attributed to – her father, arguably the only secure portrait of her is a sketch in black chalk at the Louvre (inv. RF 41195; fig. 1); Pierre Rosenberg sees in the drawing the features of Marie-Anne, Fragonard’s wife and the girl’s mother: ‘her slightly heavy chin, her dark eyes and arched eyebrows, and her stubby nose’ (in Fragonard, exhib. cat., Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, and New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 293, ill.). If the present drawing, like the sheet in Paris, indeed represents Rosalie, it must date from around the same time, when Rosalie was about sixteen or seventeen, i.e. around 1786 or 1787. Shortly after, in October 1788, Rosalie died of consumption, and this context may explain the drawing’s ‘subtle tone of sadness’, and while it is in no way ‘a true portrait, […] the sensitive portrayal of mood, age and physical state seems appropriate to the attention and love Fragonard would show his ailing daughter’ (Williams, op. cit., p. 138)

Other drawings, also executed in red chalk, can be related to the work under discussion, either because they depict a young woman leaning against a large pillow, or seated in a similar, or even identical, chair: a drawing at the Morgan Library and Museum (inv. 1993.6; fig. 2; see P. Stein, Fragonard Drawings Triumphant. Works from New York Collections, exhib. cat., New York, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016, no. 71, ill.); and one in a private collection, which surfaced at Christie’s, London, 1 July 1997, lot 146 (fig. 3). A counterproof of the New York drawing, reworked by Fragonard with brown wash, to which the artist also added a parrot in black chalk, is at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco (inv. 1966.54; see Williams, op. cit., no. 55, ill.). The inscription lower left on the mount of the present sheet connects it with at least one of the Fragonard sanguines at the Musée Atger in Montpellier, a portrait in red chalk of Fragonard’s patron, Pierre-Jacques Bergeret de Grancourt (inv. MA 76; see G. Kazerouni in Dessins du Musée Atger. Chefs-d’œuvre dune collection, exhib. cat., Musée de Lodève, 2008-2009, no. 37, ill.). This latter connection could be seen as a further argument in favour of an identification of the sitter of the present drawing as Rosalie, since her death occurred at Bergeret’s chateau near L’Isle-Adam.

The choice of red chalk, the regular parallel hatching, the simple treatment of the background and the figure of a young woman wearing a dress also links the drawing to a larger group of drawings generally dated around 1770-1780 (Rosenberg, op. cit., nos. 203-206, ill.). An exceptional example was recently sold at Christie’s, New York, 14-28 January 2021, lot 39. Perrin Stein has suggested that some of these works may have been created in order to be engraved as crayon-manner prints, which were popular at the time. One of the drawings was indeed made into a print by Gilles Demarteau around 1772-1773 (Stein, op. cit., p. 210, fig. 110, under nos. 69-71). In many of Fragonard’s drawings of this type, he focuses less on the sitter’s physionomy than on her pose and especially the folds of her dress, which inspired the Goncourt brothers to write an enthusiastic passage praising ‘the red chalk, almost crushed under the artist’s pressure, seeming to flog the backgrounds with its corkscrew markings, brutalizes the stuffs, the trimming of a dress, rumples triumphantly the fanciful fripperies and adornments of costume, attacks with the same force the features, hacking them with shadow, and performs the miracle of revealing, beneath such violent handling, the smile of a pretty woman’ (quoted from Stein, op. cit., p. 213). In the present work, that smile is tinged with melancholy; it is, according to Jean-Pierre Cuzin, ‘one of the few truly tender and touching drawings by the artist’ (e-mail, 12 April 2021).

Last seen on the art market in 1935, this drawing was previously owned by the celebrated British pianist Clifford Curzon and his American wife Lucille Wallace, who herself was an admired harpsichordist (both were students of Artur Schnabel, Wanda Landowska and Nadia Boulanger). While other drawings and pictures owned by the Curzons were sold in these Rooms on 9 and 10 December 1977, the present drawing – undoubtedly the greatest work of art in their possession – has remained in their family until today. Before, the drawing belonged to the outstanding collector John Postle Heseltine, who owned two other red chalk studies of women by Fragonard, as well as the retouched counterproof in San Francisco mentioned above (see Heseltine, op. cit., nos. 1, 2, 6, ill.). Equally distinguished was the collection of the drawing’s first known owner, the baron de Schwiter, an artist himself and a friend of Eugène Delacroix, who portrayed him twice, most notably in a famous full-length picture at the National Gallery (inv. NG3286; see L. Johnson, The Paintings of Eugène Delacroix. A Critical Catalogue, I, Oxford, 1981, no. 82, II, pl. 72; see also S. Slanina, ‘Sur les traces d’Eugène Delacroix et de Louis-Auguste de Schwiter’, Société des Amis du musée national Eugène Delacroix. Bulletin, no. 6, April 2008, pp. 26-32). In addition to being an anglophile, he was particularly interested in drawings of the eighteenth century, and was, in the words of Frits Lugt ‘one of the first to recognize the merits of this school, at a time when its works were not yet much valued’ (op. cit., p. 318, under no. 1768). The sale catalogue of his collection documents important holdings by Boucher, Fragonard, Greuze, Lancret, Pater, Piazzetta, Augustin de Saint-Aubin, Tiepolo re and fils, and Watteau.

We are grateful to Eunice Williams for her assistance in writing this note.

Fig 1. Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Portrait of Rosalie Fragonard, Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Fig. 2. Jean-Honoré Fragonard, A young woman seated near a fire screen, Morgan Library and Museum, New York.

Fig 3. Jean-Honoré Fragonard, A young woman seated, looking down to the left, with her arms crossed. Private collection.

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