Sully wing – 2nd floor – Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1736-1806) – Room 48
It is a delightful symphony of tender colors and pink flesh, that this table of the Bathers: the blue of the sky, the light green of the trees, the darker green of the algae bordering the brook make an ideal frame of freshness to this swarm of pretty women who frolic in the water with shouts, laughter and movements of ondine jubilant. Let’s not go into too much detail about the landscape; Let us not seek if the perspective is exactly balanced, if the propitious trees not only have the role of making a case, of crimping, so to speak, on the velvet of their foliage the triumphant nudity of the bathers. Whether water can meander between the narrow banks of the stream, what does it matter! The beauty of this painting is entirely in the crazy joy of these naked women, in the furious movement that leads them, in the harmonious grace of the whole and especially in this warm atmosphere of light and life that adorns the treetops. and the epidermis of the flesh.
This painting belongs to the allegorical and gallant genre fashioned by Boucher, and that Fragonard inherited from him by adding a personal passion, an intensity of life that did not have his master. His gallant scenes are never fixed; Whether it’s the lucky chances of the Swing or the Removed shirt, it’s always the same movement, the same impetuousness, the same joy of living. As shimmering as Boucher’s, Fragonard’s painting has more real flames; its color is more ardent, its hues warmer; with so much grace, there is more real abandonment, perhaps also more lasciviousness, with sometimes a slight chili pepper. We must not forget that Fragonard was the painter of Mme Du Barry and that he lived in a century of elegant and flowery corruption. His paintings were not intended for the austere mansions of the Faubourg or Versailles: they went straight to these “follies” discreet and coquettish, erected in some distant district, pretty temples of love where took place the fine parties, the happy dinners and gallant interviews. Fragonard was the indicated painter of these places of pleasure; he was its natural decorator, and his libertine compositions were in their place in these perfumed boudoirs which seemed to stagger and fall so many virtues.
The Bathers belong of course to this kind and short dressed world. They do not have, of course, the clever finesse of the little Louis XV canopies, and certainly Fragonard claimed to paint Naiads or Nymphs, but it is always the Woman, attractive and heady, troubling and alive enigma, radiant goddess whose power has not diminished since the distant time when Venus ruled Olympus.
Among the young women playing in the brook, there are two of them, the ones on the right, who seem to be playing with each other. In the foreground, a beautiful blonde beauty, crowned with golden hair, spreads buxom forms of a perfect curve. On the bottom of the waters and the greenery, in the midst of a flight of sails, a young woman, seeming to descend from the azure, is kept above the water and the graceful movement of the arms raised and legs stretched is that of a body that comes gently to land on the ground. On the left, a naiad swimming in an ebullition of foam turns to watch the descent of her companion; another, as indifferent to the scene, clings to his raised arms with the branches that bend towards the stream. A golden light circulates among all these young bodies and bathes them in a kind of blonde atmosphere.
Treated by an ordinary painter, such a work might fall into vulgarity. It was precisely the privilege of painters of the eighteenth century, and Fragonard in particular, to give a stamp of supreme elegance to the most scabrous scenes and know how to smile without forcing to blush. Of all these painters, Fragonard was certainly the most gifted; he remains, with Watteau, the most alive and complete artist of one of the most seductive epochs of history.
The works of Fragonard, like all those of that time, were discredited today replaced by an extraordinary vogue. These canvases that go up in crazy auction sales could not find buyers, some fifty years ago, even at the most derisory prices. We do not know how much Monsieur La Caze paid the Baigneuses, but he must have had very cheap, if one thinks that he acquires the Removed shirt , another jewel of the same painter, for the hardly credible sum of two francs.
Height: 0.65 – Width: 0.81 – Figures: 0.35.