At the Clark Art Institute, Fragonard’s Fancy Brushwork Pushes Him Toward Fantasy

THE DAILY PIC: Does manic paint breed maniacal subject matter?


THE DAILY PIC (#1376, Clark Institute edition): I love the contrast between yesterday’s tidy Italian Renaissance portrait from the Clark, proto-photographic and – to go all semiotic for a second – pseudo-indexical, and this “fantasy portrait”, painted somewhere around 1770 by the Frenchman Jean-Honoré Fragonard and not making any claims at all about its relationship to any thing or person actually encountered in the world.

I’m also intrigued by how the two portraits live at the two ends of the painterly spectrum, with yesterday’s example as tightly licked as could be – as though it weren’t painted at all – and today’s letting all its brushwork hang out. I wonder if the obvious artifice of a freely brushed style might also encourage its use for “artificial” subject matter that comes straight from the painter’s head.

There’s a kind of paradox involved in using such visibly present paint to conjure up a creature who is palpably absent from our space, and once that paradox is on the table (or the easel) anything goes.

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