The Musée Fragonard opens in Grasse

1. Musée Fragonard
Marguerite Gérard room’s
Photo : Didier Rykner

11/4/11 – Museums – Grasse, Musée Fragonard – Particularly fascinated by the 18th century, Jean-François Costa, the grandson of the founder of Fragonard Perfumes in Grasse today managed by his daughters, has assembled a remarkable collection of paintings dominated by the figures of Fragonard, native son and namesake of the family’s perfume company, as well as Marguerite Gérard and Jean-Baptiste Mallet.

After having already created two museums which are open to the public free of charge [1], Jean-François Costa donated all of the works he owned by these three artists to the firm so that they could be placed in a private residence, the Hôtel de Villeneuve restored for the occasion and which will now house the new museum, located not far from the Musée du Costume.

2. Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
The Herd, 1775
Oil on canvas - 32 x 40 cm
Grasse, Musée Fragonard
Photo : Musée Fragonard

3. Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
The Sacrifice of the Rose, c. 1780
Oil on panel - 54 x 43 cm
Grasse, Musée Fragonard
Photo : Musée Fragonard

The establishment opened its doors a few days ago and was officially inaugurated on Friday, 8 April. In a very understated setting, perfectly suited for viewing, the three rooms, one for each artist (ill. 1), display about fifty works. A fourth room will feature exhibitions.

4. Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837)
Portrait of Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Oil on canvas - 58 x 44.5 cm
Grasse, Musée Fragonard
Photo : Musée Fragonard

5. Marguerite Gérard (1761-1837)
The Reading
Oil on panel - 25.7 x 20 cm
Grasse, Musée Fragonard
Photo : Didier Rykner

All of these works are paintings corresponding to a personal selection by an art lover, of small format and particularly refined in treatment. The Fragonard room shows the artist’s full range of talent as represented by an entire variety of subjects : a landscape with a canvas entitled The Herd (ill.2) which is profoundly influenced by Ruysdael, a genre scene with a preparatory sketch for A Visit to the Nurse held at the National Gallery in Washington, a history composition with a study for a Visitation and an allegory with The Sacrifice of the Rose (ill. 3). There is also a retrospective (and imaginative) portrait of François de Bourbon, Count of Enghine in grisaille which is part of a preparatory series for engravings. The collection includes a total of ten paintings by Fragonard.

6. Jean-Baptiste Mallet (1759-1835)
Eloise at the Abbey of Paraclet
Oil on canvas - 27 x 22 cm
Grasse, Musée Fragonard
Photo : Musée Fragonard

7. Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
The Farm, 1759
Red chalk - 40 x 55 cm
Grasse, Musée Fragonard
Photo : Musée Fragonard

The works by his sister-in-law Marguerite Gérard (except for her portrait of Fragonard –ill. 4) are presented in the second room. The artist specialized in small portraits and genre scenes in a very polished manner (see article on the exhibition at the Cognac-Jay), with about fifteen examples on view here. Of special note is a rare study which displays her brother-in-law’s influence more so than the rest (ill. 5).
The third room features an artist who is less well-known than the first two, Jean-Baptiste Mallet, born in Grasse in 1759 and specialized in genre painting, which he often executed in gouache and watercolour. Strongly marked by Dutch art as illustrated here in such works as Meeting in a Salon (Dutch Concert), he also painted small troubadour scenes (ill. 6) as well as erotic and amatory compositions influenced by Fragonard (The Lunch after Giving Birth, Venus and Adonis Surrounded by Love…).

8. Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806)
Head of an Elder in Profile, 1767
Oil on canvas - D. 37 cm
Private collection in loan at the Musée Fragonard
Photo : Didier Rykner

9. Jean-Baptiste Mallet (1759-1835)
Love Capturing the Flower Girl, 1780-1790
Gouache and watercolour - 23.5 x 18.5 cm
Grasse, Musée Fragonard
Photo : Didier Rykner

For its opening show, the exhibition room is currently displaying seven drawings by Fragonard (ill. 7) owned by the museum, along with two canvases by his son Alexandre-Evariste and two paintings lent by collectors : a beautiful Head of an Elder in Profile (ill. 8) and a Bust Portrait of a Young Boy. A catalogue has been published for the occasion. It studies and reproduces the ensemble of the works displayed in the four rooms and was written by the museum curator and Italian art historian, Andrea Zanella.

The Musée Fragonard plans to organize one exhibition per year (another exhibition space is available on the garden level) and to make further acquisitions. Recently in fact, a gouache watercolour by Jean-Baptiste Mallet representing Love Capturing the Flower Girl (ill. 9)which repeats the theme and also the composition of Fragonard’s Sacrifice of the Rose (ill. 3) joined the already rich collection.

Andrea Zanella, Musée Fragonard. Collection Hélène et Jean-François Costa, Editions Musée Fragonard, 2011, 160 p. ISBN : 9782953846201.

Musée Fragonard website

Didier Rykner, lundi 11 avril 2011


[1] The Musée du Parfum and the Musée du Costume.

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