Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Fountain of Love, c. 1785
In a shadowy clearing in a forest, a young man and woman eagerly rush towards a fountain, from which one of the frolicking putti offers the young lovers a cup to drink. Fragonard’s painting recalls the theme of the Garden of Love, a motif which goes back to classical poetry and symbolises love as a natural, uncontrollable passion. In this context, the Fountain of Love was believed to make everyone who drank from it fall in love, because Cupid, the god of love, had dipped his arrows into the water.
In the eighteenth century the subject was often shown in the context of fashionable scenes in the tradition of the fête galante, a genre with which Fragonard himself was very familiar. Here however he chose to return the allegory to its classical origins: the monumental gravitas of the figures with their heavy drapery and strongly defined profiles, and the highly finished, meticulously worked surface clearly owe to the neoclassical taste which reached its height in France during the 1780s.
Fragonard produced a second version of the painting (Fig. 2), now at the J. Paul Getty Museum, and although the compositions are almost identical, their mode and style is strikingly different. The loose, fluid handling gives the figures a softer silhouette reminiscent of Fragonard’s earlier rococo works.
Although the Getty version most likely predates the Wallace picture – technical analysis has shown that parts of the Getty composition were reworked on the canvas – its elaborate character suggests that it was intended as a fully-fledged second version rather than a preparatory sketch. Increasingly independent from the Academy and state patronage, Fragonard painted for a circle of private clients and collectors that would have appreciated his ability to switch between different styles, demonstrating his artistic versatility on the competitive market.
On 18 November 1785, the Journal de Paris announced the sale of a print after Fragonard’s painting, executed by Nicolas-François Regnault (Fig 3). It combines elements from both versions, thus providing a terminus ante quem for their execution and suggesting that Regnault may have seen the paintings, probably in Fragonard’s studio.
Friday 2 and Wednesday 28 June at 1 pm with Laura Langelüddecke, Assistant Curator, in the Study.
Duffy, Stephen and Hedley, Jo, The Wallace Collection's Pictures. A Complete Catalogue, London: Unicorn Press 2011, pp. 156-157
Faroult, Guillaume (dir.), Fragonard amoureux. Galant et libertin, exh. cat. Paris, Musée du Luxembourg, 16 September 2015 -24 January 2016, Paris: RMN 2015, p. 260
Ingamells, John, The Wallace Collection Catalogue of Pictures III: French before 1815, London: The Trustees of The Wallace Collection 1985, pp. 154-156
Leonard, Mark, 'Two Versions of The Fountain of Love by Jean-Honoré Fragonard: A Comparative Study', in: National Gallery Technical Bulletin 29, 2008, pp. 31-45
Molotiu, Andrei, Fragonard's Allegories of Love, Los Angeles: Getty Publications 2007, pp. 37-44