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Consuming Passion: Fragonards Allegories of Love
At the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute: October 28, 2007-January 21, 2008
At the J. Paul Getty Museum, Getty Center: February 12-May 4, 2008

June 20, 2007

LOS ANGELES—The iconic 18th century painting The Fountain of Love (c. 1785) by renowned French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806) will be one of the highlights of an important exhibition being organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum on works created in the twilight of this artist’s career and dedicated to the theme of love. The painting was acquired by the Museum in 1999. Consuming Passion: Fragonard’s Allegories of Love will be on view at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA., October 28, 2007 through January 21, 2008 and then will be on view at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, CA, February 12 through May 4, 2008. The exhibition brings together, for the first time, many of Fragonard’s beautiful allegories, including multiple versions of the same theme to convey the artist’s multifaceted style, ranging from loosely sketched to highly finished.

Born in the small city of Grasse, Jean-Honoré Fragonard rose to prominence at a young age and became one of the leading French painters of the 18th century. Apprenticed to esteemed artists Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin and François Boucher in Paris, he won the coveted Prix de Rome in 1752 and spent three years studying at the Académie de France in Rome. His submission to the Salon of 1765, a history painting entitled Coresus and Calirhoe (1765, Louvre), won him accolades and an associate academy membership, but he refused the  career of history painter in favor of producing lighthearted, erotic images for private clients. 

In the late 1770s and 1780s, he made another significant departure, this time from narratives of contemporary lovers and pastoral life, and began producing highly dramatic and exquisitely executed allegorical representations of love. He personified the new ideas of all-encompassing romantic love that had emerged in the middle of the century—passionate abandon, endless love, the consummation of desire, and the loss of virginity—in the form of classically draped figures rushing towards fountains of love, placing roses on altars, or confessing their love before a statue of Cupid. As his theme shifted, so did his palette, from pastel to a more classical aesthetic with chiaroscuro. Fragonard fell out of favor during Napoleon’s rule in France when the neoclassical technique of Jacques-Louis David became the preferred style of painting. Despite the disrepute he experienced later in life, the canon of art history has recognized Fragonard for reinvigorating the Rococo style with his cheerful depictions of mythology, gallantry, landscape, and portraiture. 

This international loan exhibition features more than 30 paintings, drawings, and works on paper from collections around the world, including works from the Albertina in Vienna, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Armand Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and the J. Paul Getty Museum, among others. In addition, numerous private collectors have lent important works rarely seen by the public from Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, England, France, and Geneva.

Rather than employing a chronological layout, the installation will be organized thematically into groupings of paintings, drawings, and other ephemera that depict particular allegories: The Oath of Love, The Sacrifice of the Rose, The Invocation of Love, and The Fountain of Love. For example, the sacrifice of the rose will be represented by three paintings (all dating from about 1785–1790) and two drawings from the 1770s, while the fountain of love will be represented by two paintings—one of which is the masterpiece from the Getty’s permanent collection—and an engraving after Fragonard by Nicolas-Francois Regnault (c. 1785).

Los Angeles museums and collectors have had a love affair of their own with Fragonard, endowing the city with holdings of extraordinary quality and depth. For the presentation at the Getty Center exclusively, many local institutions and collectors—including LACMA, the Norton Simon, the Huntington Library, the Armand Hammer Museum, and the Getty Research Institute—will lend paintings, drawings, and books which will be intimately installed in an adjacent gallery to place Fragonard’s late allegories in the context of the artist’s oeuvre. 

Consuming Passion: Fragonard’s Allegories of Love is organized by the J. Paul Getty Museum, and is curated by former Associate Curator Jon Seydl and Assistant Curator Scott Allan with Curator Scott Schaefer. The exhibition will debut at the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute this fall before returning to the Getty, just in time for Valentine’s Day 2008.

Publications are available in the Getty Museum Store, by calling (800) 223-3431 or (310) 440-7059, or online at

Fragonard’s Allegories of Love by Andrei Molotiu
Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) was a French painter whose late manner is distinguished by remarkable facility, exuberance, and hedonism. A prolific artist, Fragonard produced more than 550 paintings. The J. Paul Getty Museum’s Fragonard masterpiece, The Fountain of Love, is part of a series of his most striking works called the Allegories of Love, exquisite paintings that convey an atmosphere of intimacy and eroticism. This lavishly illustrated book compares and analyzes the compositions, iconography, and sources of the Allegories in the context of ancien régime Preromanticism. The author discusses the transcendental aspect of love in the Allegories and the concept of Romantic love and painting on the eve of the French Revolution.
(Getty Publications, $24.95)

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Rebecca Taylor
Getty Communications

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