This drawing appears to be the same one exhibited at the Paris Salon of 1800 (see P. Sanchez, Dictionnaire des artistes exposant dans les Salons des XVII et XVIIIeme siècles à Paris et en province 1673-1800, Dijon, 2004, II, p. 700). Fragonard, the son of Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) and Marie-Anne Gérard (1745-1823), first exhibited at the Salon in 1793. He trained not only with his father, but also with Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). Like his teacher David, Fragonard fils adapted to the ever-changing political climate of France throughout his career, creating works that celebrated the regimes of the Directoire, Consulat and Empire, and later the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy.
The present drawing dates to 1799 (or Year VIII in the Revolutionary calendar) the year the French government transitioned from the Directoire to the Consulat with Napoleon’s bloodless coup of the 18 Brumaire (or 9 November). Fragonard’s portrait embodies the social and political change of that brief Republican moment in France amidst the tumult and bloodshed of the Revolution and the period immediately following it. The title of the portrait 'Citoyenne D…' reflects the new self-perception among the French people – no longer subjects of the monarch, they would now identify as citizens of the Republic.
The most powerful way this new post-Revolution form of self-identification is reflected is through the sitter’s attire, which demonstrates the impact the Revolution had on dress and how a political statement could be made by a woman’s clothing. Citoyenne D… wears a softly draped, unadorned gown of humble muslin fabric in the Grecian style, or à la grecque. The unlaced sandal at her feet also evokes the Antique. This style, which reached its apogee in the years after the Revolution, is meant to evoke the austere simplicity and republican values of ancient Greece. When Marie Antoinette was depicted in a variation of this type of dress, called en chemise and deriving from an English style, in a 1783 portrait by Élisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (Kronberg, Hessische Hausstiftung) it caused a scandal, as the informal, modest and foreign dress was seem as unfit for a queen. Nearly two decades later the en chemise style evolved into à la grecque which symbolized a set of values entirely in opposition to the opulence of the Ancien Régime.
Portrait of Citoyenne D… was made in the manière noire style which derives from mezzotint printing. This technique which was invented in the mid-17th century was enjoying a revived moment of popularity especially in England in the late 18th century. Mezzotint was a painstaking process that involved a rocker, a textured metal tool which was inked to create a richly tonal style of dramatic contrasts between light and darks in a composition. Draughtsmen such as Fragonard replicated the effects of mezzotint drawing with black and white chalk as a response to the virtuosity of the printmakers. Portrait of Citoyenne D…, with its deeply shadowed foreground and radiant light of the sitter’s white dress, creates a dramatic contrast equal to the effects of mezzotint.