Home > Art, Books > Fragonard at the Frick

Fragonard at the Frick

December 12, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Yesterday I wrote about the new book by mathematicians Persi Diaconis and Ron Graham on the math behind magic tricks, which I learned about thanks to the Wall Street Journal’s Saturday book review section. On the next page was another interesting review, Karen Wilkin’s look at Fragonard’s Progress of Love at The Frick Collection, written by Frick curator and associate director Colin B. Bailey. From the Frick’s museum shop website, where the book is the featured item (at the moment), one finds the following description:

An invaluable and engaging resource on the sequence and meaning of the panels in the series, the book explores the history of the work from its conception in France to its rediscovery by two great American collectors more than one hundred years later and tells the fascinating story of how the group of canvases found a permanent home in the New York City mansion of Henry Clay Frick, where the museum’s visitors enjoy them today. The tale, however, has resonance and appeal beyond the walls of the institution. A study of these beautiful panels offers a window into the complex world of art and architectural taste-makers and patronage in eighteenth-century France, as well as the history of collecting in Europe and America during the two centuries that followed their creation.

Many years ago, when I first fell in love with The Frick, I would zip through the Fragonard room as quickly as possible, or bypass it. I found the paintings — how do I say it — too pretty? Like this one:

The Progress of Love: Love Pursuing a Dove, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 1790-1791

One day, years after my first visit, I decided to spend some time in the Fragonard room, examining each painting to see if I could overcome whatever bias was clouding my vision. It was a good exercise, because I quickly realized that the paintings weren’t just pretty, they were stunningly beautiful. Now, whenever I get to the Frick — which isn’t often — I head straight to the Fragonard room and linger. Vermeer can wait.

Mistress and Maid, Johannes Vermeer, 1666-1667

Ingres too.

Comtesse d'Haussonville, Jean-August-Dominique Ingres,1845

(What a collection!) I’ll get to them. Fragonard first.

Regarding the book, Wilkin explains in her WSJ review that

when new lighting was created for the Fragonard Room in 2007, Colin Bailey, the Frick’s associate director and a specialist in 18th-century French painting, began a study of the cycle. This slim, copiously illustrated volume is the result. A combination of scrupulous research, informed interpretation and what can only be described as well-documented gossip, it is almost as pleasurable to encounter as the paintings themselves—and it will send you rushing to the Frick.

For now, I’m ready to rush to the book.

[Speaking of which, if any family member is reading this and thinking of buying the book for me, let me point out that one can buy it from the Frick at the list price plus a hefty shipping fee, but it is available at a significant discount through Amazon, with no shipping fee. On the other hand, Amazon won’t have it available for a while, but that’s okay. I’m in no hurry.]

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