Portrait d’un homme en costume (1768-1770)

Fragonard, Jean-Honoré (1732-1806)

Portrait d’un homme en costume (Portrait of a Man in Costume)
Oil on canvas, 80.3 × 64.7 cm
Art Institute of ChicagoChicago

Jean-Honoré Fragonard is perhaps best known for his light-hearted, amorous subjects, which seem to embody the spirit of eighteenth-century France. This work, painted in lively brushstrokes, represents another important aspect of Fragonard’s genius—in a series of fantasy portraits, he used references to earlier artists to enliven his own characterizations of his patrons and artistic friends. Here the identity of the sitter is unknown; however, the half-length format, the rapid, virtuoso handling of the paint, and the use of seventeenth-century costume link this work to the fantasy portraits. In this instance, Fragonard took as his starting point a painting of an actor by the Italian Baroque artist Domenico Fetti, then in a leading Parisian collection; in other related portraits, the French painter was inspired by the bravura style of the Flemish artists Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. Two paintings from this series bear inscriptions stating that they were painted in one hour. Whether or not this is literally true, the direct, personal quality that results from Fragonard’s command of the medium makes this series particularly appealing to a modern sensibility. (AIC)