Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Grasse 1732-1806 Paris)
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Grasse 1732-1806 Paris)

The Hurdy-Gurdy Player

Jean-Honoré Fragonard (Grasse 1732-1806 Paris)
The Hurdy-Gurdy Player
oil on canvas
17 x 12 1/8 in. (43.3 x 30.8 cm.)
(Probably) M...; Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, 9-10 January 1818, lot 16 (without indication of either size or support).
(Probably) Simonet collection, Paris; Hôtel Drouot, Paris, 7-8 May 1863, lot 34 (without indication of either size or support).
Gustave Rothan (1822-1890), Paris, by 1883; Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 30 May 1890, lot 148 (12,000 FF to Reuter or Rutter).
Albert Lehmann (1840-1922), Paris, by 1897; Galerie Georges Petit, Paris, 8 June 1925, lot 201, citing Portalis (loc. cit.) who erroneously listed the present painting as two separate works.
Mrs. Edward Esmond, Paris, by 1934.
Private collection, France.
with Galerie Brame and Lorenceau, Paris, where acquired in 2006 by the present owner.
Baron R. Portalis, Honoré Fragonard: sa vie et son oeuvre, Paris, 1889., pp. 277, 282, erroneously listed as two separate works.
C. Mauclair, 'Fragonard', in L'Art et les Artistes, III, April-September 1906, p. 198, illustrated.
P. de Nolhac, J.H. Fragonard, Paris, 1906, p. 148-9, illustrated opposite p. 160, erroneously listed as two separate works and with the provenance conflated with ex-Vassal version, which is erroneously listed as on canvas.
P. de Nolhac, 'Fragonard et Chardin,' in Les Arts, LXVII, July 1907, p. 43.
L. de Fourcaud, 'Honoré Fragonard,' in Revue de l'Art, XXI, 10 January 1907, p. 294.
A. Dayot and L. Vaillat, L'Oeuvre de J.-B.-S. Chardin et de J.-H. Fragonard, Paris, 1908, p. XV, no. 115 bis., illustrated, as a separate work to the ex-Simonet painting.
G. Wildenstein, 'L'Exposition Fragonard au Pavillion de Marsan,' in La Renaissance de l"art français et des industries de luxe, January 1921, p. 362, illustrated.
H. Algoud, Fragonard, Monte-Carlo, 1941, pl. 27.
M. Pitsch, Essai de catalogue sur l'iconographie de la vie populaire au XVIIIe siècle, dissertation, Paris, 1952, p. 87, no. 292, quoting Portalis (loc. cit.) and Dayot and Vaillat (loc. cit.) who list this painting as two separate works.
L. Guerry-Brion, Fragonard, Milan, 1954, no. 56, illustrated.
L. Réau, Fragonard: sa, vie et son oeuvre, Brussels, 1956, p. 181, identifying the present work as the ex-Simonet painting.
G. Wildenstein, The Paintings of Fragonard: Complete Edition by Georges Wildenstein, London, 1960, p. 314, no. 505, fig. 211, with erroneous citations, including the lot number in the Lehmann sale, which is listed as 'Lot 20 (bt. by Guiraud)', and identifying the present work as the ex-Simonet painting.
J. Wilhelm, unpublished monograph, 1960, pp. 137-38.
G. Mandel, L'opera completa di Fragonard, Milan, 1972, no. 45, illustrated.
J.-P. Cuzin, Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Vie et oeuvre, Fribourg, 1987, p. 331, no. 365, erroneously listing the lot number in the Lehmann sale as 'Lot 20', and identifying the present work as the ex-Simonet painting.
J.-P. Cuzin, Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Life and Work, New York, 1988, p. 331, no. 365, erroneously listing the lot number in the Lehmann sale as 'Lot 20', and identifying the present work as the ex-Simonet painting.
P. Rosenberg, Fragonard, exhibition catalogue, Paris and New York, 1987, p. 566, under no. 297, fig. 9.
P. Rosenberg, Tout l'oeuvre peint de Fragonard, Paris, 1989, p. 104, no. 297, illustrated, identifying the present work as the ex-Simonet painting.
P. Rosenberg, 'The Blind Man of the Quinze-Vingts by Chardin and the Young Girl with a Marmot by Fragonard at the Fogg', in C.P. Schneider, W.W. Robinson, A.I. Davies, eds., Shop talk : studies in honor of Seymour Slive : presented on his seventy-fifth birthday, Cambridge, Mass., 1995, pp. 212-215, 393, ns. 21, 24, fig. 7.
G. Faroult, 'La Vielleuse par Marie-Anne Loir au musée de Riom: fortune d'une iconographie savoyarde, entre peinture et littérature au XVIIIe siècle,' Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français: Année 2003, 2004, p. 252-253, 256, ns. 57-58, fig. 9, erroneously identifying the ex-Vassal version with the present painting in the text, yet correctly identifying the ex-Vassal version with the painting on copper of smaller dimensions in the footnote.
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, L'Art au XVIIIe siècle, December 1883-January 1884, no. 48 (without indication of either size or support).
Paris, Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Portraits de Femmes et d'Enfants, 30 April 1897, no. 61.
Paris, Pavillion de la Ville de Paris, Exposition Universelle de 1900: Exposition Rétrospective de la Ville de Paris, 1900, no. 123.
Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, Chardin-Fragonard, June-July 1907, no. 120.
Berlin, Royal Academy of Art, L'exposition d'oeuvres de l'art français du XVIIIème siècle, 1910, no. 52.
Paris, The Louvre, Exposition d'oeuvres de J.-H. Fragonard, 7 June-10 July 1921, no. 68, identifying the present work as the ex-Simonet painting.
Paris, Seligmann, Réhabilitation du sujet, 17 November-9 December 1934, no. 25, identifying the present work as the ex-Simonet painting.
Karlsruhe, Staatliche Kunsthalle, Jean-Siméon Chardin: 1699-1779: Werk Herkunft Wirkung, 5 June-22 August 1999, no. 119.
Paris, Musée Jacquemart André, Fragonard: Les plaisirs d'un siècle, September 2007, with erroneous citations and identifying the present work as lot 16 in the Hôtel de Bullion sale in 1818.

Lot Essay

In this well-known, often published painting by Fragonard, a young girl wearing a tightly corseted dress, a dark-blue apron and a white scarf or fanchon tied under her chin, cranks out a tune on a hurdy-gurdy. At her waist is a dark blue sash to which the musical instrument is attached. The itinerant performer stands between a large marble column and a stone post (borne) to which a horse or carriage could be attached and around which hay and stones are strewn. A golden light emanating from the left is focused principally on the woman’s head, while two spaniels play in the shadows at the base of the column. With her body turned to the left and one foot in front of the other as if she were about to start to dance, the woman turns her bright and smiling face towards the viewer. Such picturesque characters and their pets were commonly seen in the streets of 18th century Paris.

The best known of the female hurdy-gurdy players (vielleuses) in 18th century Paris was Françoise Chemin, nicknamed 'Fanchon la vielleuse,' who was apparently born in Savoy around 1737. Throughout the 18th century, thousands of men and women left the mountain regions of their native Savoy each desolate winter to migrate to the large cities of France, Italy and Germany, where they worked as chimney sweeps, knife-grinders, shoe-shine boys, or – like our Hurdy-Gurdy player – street entertainers. In Paris, most lived in poverty in their own communities, their primary concern being to send money back to their families; in the warm weather they returned home to tend their farms. They were popular subjects for French artists like Watteau and, later in the century, Greuze, Fragonard and Boilly, who were interested in the sympathetic study of 'exotic' types. The attraction of picturesque entertainers who roamed the streets of Paris would endure beyond the revolutionary period. As late as 1803, for example, a popular three-act musical comedy entitled Fanchon la vielleuse—with words by Jean Nicolas Bouilly and Joseph Marie Pain and music by Joseph Denis Doche—was introduced to the public at the Théâtre du Vaudeville and was a popular sensation. The present painting has sometimes been identified as 'Fanchon la vielleuse' and described as depicting Fragonard’s daughter Rosalie in the guise of the popular entertainer, but there is little reason to believe the legend, and the painting almost certainly predates the play by many years.

The present picture is far from Fragonard’s only representation of a young Savoyard girl wearing a fanchon. Several bust-length and small full-length oil paintings and watercolors by the artist depict a similar female entertainer with a trained marmot in a wooden box that she would make dance, rather than playing a hurdy-gurdy. (Indeed, the style of the head scarf that she wears in the paintings was often referred to as ‘à la marmotte’ and was a type of kerchief worn by poor and working women.) Painted versions of the composition of a Girl with a Marmot are in the Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass. (gift of Grenville L. Winthrop); the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow; Portland Art Museum, Portland, Oregon (paired with A Little Boy with a ‘boîte de curiosité’ [peepshow box]); and in a private collection (see J.-P. Cuzin, op. cit., p. 217 and P. Rosenberg, op. cit., p. 387 respectively).

However, the present composition exists in only one other known version, albeit with highly significant differences. This alternative version reappeared only recently, and was offered for sale in these rooms two years ago (Christie’s, New York, 13 April 2016, lot 5; fig. 1). It is well-documented and was first recorded in the 1774 sale of the collection of Jean-Antoine-Hubert Vassal, called Vassal de Saint-Hubert (1741-1782), who had commissioned it from Fragonard as a pendant to a painting of a blind, elderly beggar by Jean-Simeon Chardin, dating from the 1750s, which was already in his collection. As Pierre Rosenberg first suggested (loc. cit.), the unexpected pairing was undoubtedly made to contrast 'blindness with sight and sound, age with youth, and even meditative absorption with gaiety'. Fragonard’s painting for Vassal is much smaller than the Thaw painting – roughly half the size (11 7/8 x 7 ¾ in.) – and executed on a copper plate, with a much more controlled and miniaturist brushwork than is found in the looser and more painterly Thaw canvas. When it was featured in Vassal’s sale in early 1774, the Fragonard copper was described with absolute precision and the exact dimensions and copper support of the painting were cited. The auctioneer praised, in particular, the refinement of Fragonard’s drawing, the delicacy of his palette and the superb and intelligent effects of light in the painting. Gabriel de Saint-Aubin’s personal copy of the Vassal de Saint-Hubert sale catalogue (Dacier 1038), which was published in 1773 by Rémy and the bookdealer Musier père (Bibliothèque nationale, Paris), contains on page 40 tiny black-chalk sketches of both the Fragonard and the Chardin pendants copied in the book’s margins by Saint-Aubin.

A work of great vivacity and delicious charm, the Thaw Hurdy-Gurdy Player is characterized by the remarkably free brushwork, virtuoso handling and radiant luminosity found in the artist’s best works of the 1770s. It is probable that the Thaw painting was sold in an anonymous sale in Paris, 10 January 1818, lot 16 - the auction catalogue described it as a 'finished sketch and very attractive', emphasizing the appealing rapidity of its execution - but its earliest history is yet to be discovered. The painting is undated, and it is difficult to ascertain whether it precedes or follows the Vassal copper in date, especially since the small-scale and uncharacteristic support of Vassal’s painting necessitated Fragonard’s working with an atypically high finish in that picture. It is, in any event, a completely different conception of the subject: larger, brushier and more painterly, the young musician’s expression is more demure and traditionally pretty than in the Vassal version. The Thaw canvas has been dated as early as 1748-52 by Mandel (loc. cit.), as late as 1780-88 by Wildenstein (loc. cit.), around 1780 by Cuzin (loc. cit.), and circa 1772-74 by Rosenberg (loc. cit.); for this author, Rosenberg’s positioning of the picture to the early or mid-1770s seems the most convincing, as it shows a marked similarity in handling to the various versions of the Sultana Seated on a Sofa (J.-P. Cuzin, op. cit., pp. 266, 267, 268) and The Visitation (J.-P. Cuzin, op. cit., pp. 269, 270, 271).

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