The Wallace Collection announces new conservation project focusing on the works of Jean-Honoré Fragonard
This summer, the Wallace Collection launches a multi-year research and conservation project focusing on a collection of eight paintings by the 18th-century French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard. One of Fragonard’s paintings, The Souvenir, serves as a recurring motif in director Joanna Hogg’s upcoming movie of the same name. The film distributor, Curzon, serves an instrumental role in promoting the Wallace Collection’s conservation project as the film opens in cinemas on 30th August 2019.
Critics widely regard Fragonard as one of the most distinguished painters of the late Rococo era for his masterful technique and ability to tailor artistic styles to specific subject matter. The artist rose to prominence through the support of wealthy and licentious patrons of Louis XV’s court. His works skilfully exhibit themes of freedom and pleasure through illuminated colour palettes and textural brushwork. Unfortunately, the upheaval of the French Revolution forced the painter out of Paris and society’s memory.
Fragonard’s paintings represent a subtle thematic shift from other celebrated works of the same period. For instance, art historians claim The Souvenir illustrates a young woman pining for her lover as she carves his initials into a tree with a dog sitting nearby – a symbol of fidelity at the time. Upon closer examination, the painting exhibits the woman involved in more self-determining actions that reveal a sense of personal agency in contrast to the conservative social and cultural ideals of the 18th century.
One of his most iconic works featured in the Wallace Collection’s permanent exhibition, The Swing, receives critical acclaim for its complex depiction of freedom and eroticism in an environment shadowed with a sense of unease. However, there is not much verified information regarding the painting’s inception. The Collection’s research project aims to uncover journals, sales catalogues and other documents that might clarify the early history of the work.
Preliminary infrared scans of The Swing show a staggering number of drawings underneath the painting, which indicate the artist’s particular investment with the subject. Similar in-depth research using X-ray and infrared technology applied to Fragonard’s other works could assist in dating paintings such as The Souvenir, whose chronology remains generally unestablished.
Painting conservation can require as much as one year to restore a single work depending on its size and the impact of damages. Restoration of Fragonard’s paintings occupies a special role in today’s art historical landscape as his works become more accessible to the public. Led by Dr Yuriko Jackall, Curator of French Paintings at the Wallace Collection, this new research project will culminate in a special exhibition opening in 2022.
The Wallace Collection is an international assemblage of paintings, sculptures, furniture, arms and armour, and porcelain. The gallery houses one of the largest collections of 18th-century French paintings outside of the Musée du Louvre. Today, the Collection maintains, conserves, researches and provides public access to these masterpieces as a nationally recognised cultural institution.
Featured image: Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Souvenir, c 1775-1780
For further information about Fragonard and the Wallace Collection’s conservation project visit the museum’s website here.