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Critical Analysis Of "The Reader" By Fragonard

1163 words - 5 pages

The Reader, commonly referred to as A Young Girl Reading is an oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Completed in 1776, this "Fragonard favorite" is currently on display at The National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. On the surface, the painting seems to be a basic image of a girl with a book but in reality, it is nothing of the sort. In fact, The Reader provides its audience with a very important "snap shot" of 18th century France. This piece is both an exemplary demonstration of how Fragonard's influences affected his individual artistic style and is a classic demonstration of art from the Rococo period.Fragonard was born in 1732 and grew up to embody the freedom and curiosity ...view middle of the document...

In 1752, Fragonard made a name for himself by winning the Prix de Rome with his painting, Jeroboam Sacrificing the Idols (even though he hadn't followed Academy courses). The next three years of Fragonard's life were spent in Ecole des Elíves Protégés, a house in the enclave of the Old Louvre that was set up to provide general studies for young artists who received major awards before they were sent to Rome so that they were "prepared" and could profit from their visit (Wildenstein 5). Fragonard, not having attended an actual art school, made the absolute most of this opportunity and of his journey to Rome by genuinely immersing himself in the time period. By 1760 Fragonard had developed a following and when Boucher died in 1770, he began to take on his role by receiving many important commissions for the king and court (www.metmuseuem.org).The Reader is a portrait in the Rococo style of the Enlightenment. Rousseau's Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts (1750) and his Discourse on the Origins of Inequality (1753) influenced and pointed out the frivolous lifestyle of the aristocracy in addition to clearly indicate the role of education. The woman pictured in The Reader is painted with an abundance of curves, decoration and pastels, all three of which were common techniques for representing this 18th century French upper class. Similar to the themes of the Roman Empire, there is no evidence of the peasantry whatsoever (Rude 67). This can be attributed to the fact that Versailles was extracted from that society and so figuratively Fragonard chose to do the same. The Reader is an important representation of (literally) the "frilly" life of French aristocracy.While the lifestyle of the rich and famous in 18th century France are important to remember, Fragonard's demonstration of Enlightenment ideals are really what makes The Reader a classic Rococo piece. The thinkers or the era, more commonly known as philosophes began to question everything that was generally accepted in society. Rousseau, in addition to men such as Voltaire and Montesquieu believed that man had the capacity to comprehend and master the world he lived in but the ability to do this could not be obtained without an education for everyone in society. The notion that education was the only means of "moral development" entirely...

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