Catalogue entry: Playfully erotic and sensuously painted, Jean-Honoré Fragonard's scene of youthful flirtation fulfils the eighteenth-century aristocratic French taste for romantic pastoral themes. The figures are beautifully dressed in rustic but improbably clean and fashionable clothes; the woman's shoes even have elegant bows on them. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, artists and authors used blind-man's buff as a symbol of the folly of marriage, where one took one's chances in choosing a mate. In Fragonard's portrayal, however, because only one couple plays the game, neither the ultimate partner nor the final outcome is in doubt. As the youth tickles his blindfolded beloved on the cheek with a piece of straw, an infant, in the role of a classical cupid or putto, brushes her hand with the end of a stick to distract her from the object of her desire. Reaching out to locate her lover, the woman steals a glance from underneath her blindfold and catches the viewer's gaze with a knowing look—she is the one in control of the situation. The setting for this courtship game is a terrace surrounded by a low wall—a reference to the enclosed garden, traditional symbol of virginity. Leaning against the wall is a gate that has fallen off its posts. The sexual symbolism of the gate—not only open but broken off—would have been obvious to eighteenth-century viewers. When the young Fragonard painted this scene, he was still working in the studio (and largely in the style) of his famous teacher François Boucher (see 1954.18). He also painted a pendant to Blind-Man's Buff, the See-Saw, now in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid. According to eighteenth-century engravings of the images, both paintings may have originally been as much as a foot higher at the top.
Rights: Purchased with funds from the Libbey Endowment, Gift of Edward Drummond Libbey