Sunday, March 8, 2015

The Progress of Love by Fragonard

I'm rereading a book about Madame du Barry and, as usual, feel compelled to get it all straight in my head by writing it out in a blog post.  The problem is that everything is so complicated and interwoven that writing about it is a mammoth task to which I'm not equal.  Scholars could write entire books about the most obscure details.  Madame du Barry's story is fascinating and even tidbits are worth exploring.  For instance, it was mentioned in Du Barry by Stanley Loomis that she commissioned Fragonard to paint a series of panels intended for display at her Pavillon de Louveciennes.  I was curious about the paintings and checked around on the internet.  Here's what I came up with and thought worth mentioning...

The descriptions beneath each of these paintings are from this website: 

The Pursuit

In The Pursuit, a young man offers a lady a rose, which is a symbol of love and courtship. A fountain is present in the background and is a sign for the female sex ; the flowing water symbolizes seminal fluid, and together they suggest sexual consummation that is predicted for the couple's future. A statue of two cherubs chasing an animal is also in the background. The cherubs symbolize the man and the trapped animal is the young woman he hopes to attract.

The Meeting

The Meeting is a scene of a planned tryst set in a garden terrace. The piece of paper in the woman's hand indicates that it is probably a letter sent to her to arrange the meeting. The white and red colors of the couple's garments imply purity and passion. The man scales the wall like a knight who has stormed a castle, only to find the woman waiting hesitantly. The expression on her face and in her movements indicates that their tryst is about to be interrupted by an intruder. The statue of Venus in the background reinforces this hesitancy, as she disarms Cupid.

The Crowning

The Lover Crowned depicts a scene in which an artist immortalizes the action of a woman placing a floral wreath upon her lover's head. The gesture of crowning one's lover implies sexual consummation and commitment. The statue of the sleeping Cupid suggests that his job is done because the couple has consummated their relationship and are so confident in their love that an artist has been asked to capture it for all to see.

The Love Letters

Lastly, in The Love Letters, a couple reminisces about their courtship by rereading their love letters. Letters allowed people to profess their love and preserve an affair as they wished to remember it. The statue of Amitie (goddess of Friendship), along with the dog at the couple's feet, signifies friendship, love, and fidelity as the conclusion of the story.


The panels didn't grace the walls of Madame du Barry's walls for long.  She returned them to the artist.  Maybe she felt that their Rococo style didn't complement the newly fashionable Neoclassical design of the Pavillon.  If she didn't want fluffy clouds, chubby cherubs and dreamy sentimentality, she should've probably commissioned a different artist.  It's not as if his style was unknown.  Some believe the panels were rejected because the principals in them too closely resembled the du Barry and her lover, Louis XV.  Madame du Barry may not have personally objected to going down in history as the King's chosen one, but I can see why he might shy from being immortalized in such a grandly visible manner.

Particularly late in life, as he was when he chose Madame du Barry as his final consort, the King struggled with his conscience over his weakness for women and his belief in right and wrong. His need for excitement, intimacy and companionship would've been difficult enough to master, but a King's temptations were exploited by those around him.  It probably wasn't easy to resist the women who aspired to be his mistress nor the men and women who conspired to tempt him with mistresses.
Even his official mistress turned friend, Madame de Pompadour, who after her physical relationship with the King ended, stocked a château located near Versailles, Parc-aux-Cerfs, with young, sometimes very young, women who were shuttled in and out of a private entrance of Versailles where they entertained the Louis XV.

believed to be Marie-Louise O'Molloy(resident of Parc aux Cerfs) 
François Boucher

Supposedly Casonova himself discovered Marie-Louise, daughter of a cobbler, who was living in the home of his actress sister.  He had a nude portrait (not this famous one) painted of her which made its way to the King and the King had her placed in his Parc aux Cerfs.  

The monarch's deep, but denied, Roman Catholic faith, and the growing resentment of his people bothered him.  His guilt was fed by his three maiden daughters, including Princesse Louise who had recently taken the veil (preferring the austerity of the Carmelites to the decadence of Versailles) who took every opportunity, albeit not to his face, to make their disapproval known.  For instance, they held Marie Antoinette's puppet strings in the childish refuse-to-acknowledge-the-official-mistress drama that divided the Court when she first arrived at Versailles.  Anyway, for whatever reason, Madame du Barry returned the paintings to Fragonard who added later offered them to a cousin in return for lodging in his home.

Fragonard added works to the original four including "Love Pursuing a Dove" 

Love trying to find Peace?

You might enjoy this brief explanation of the panels on YouTube.

The Progress of Love is now a part of the Frick Collection in NYC.  A virtual tour can be viewed HERE.

No comments: