The Letter or The Spanish Conversation

Jean-Honoré FragonardAbout 1778

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago

Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s highly personal, powerful style emerged after periods of study with both François Boucher and Jean-Siméon Chardin, and over five years at the Académie de France in Rome. Entitled “The Letter, or The Spanish Conversation,” (because of the man’s elegant attire—with a doublet of full sleeves and a wide, stiff neck ruff—a costume that was ““in the Spanish mode””), this lively sheet depicts with wit and teasing ambiguity an intimate incident in an upper-class drawing room. The artist’s rapid, virtuoso draftsmanship evokes forms with what seems like a minimum of effort, and his powerful handling of brush and wash reflects his ability to capture the effects of light. The interplay between the drawing’s broad, free underdrawing and its shimmering veils of wash lend this work its charm and vivacity. The woman in this drawing is said to be Fragonard’s sister-in-law, the artist Marguerite Gérard.

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