Arts Everyday Living: Happy Valentine’s Day—A Valentine from an Artist of Romance & Love

Jean-Honore Fragonard, Young Girl Reading, c. 1769, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.



AN UNSOLVED MYSTERY: She is at least 250 years old, yet her name still remains unknown. Even though scholars and art historians have done extensive research, attempting to reveal her identity!

A RESTLESS PAINITNG: If you had the opportunity to hang YOUNG GIRL READING on your wall, would you ever part with her? However, she has been sold several times throughout the centuries, her owners including a count, a marquis, a surgeon, and the wife of an advertising executive.

THE ULTIMATE DESTINATION: Fortunately in 1961, she found a permanent home at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Thanks to the generosity of Ailsa Mellon Bruce, who also provided funding for some of the most popular works in the museum, including paintings by Impressionists Monet, Renoir, Degas, and Cassatt, among others.

THE PERFECT VALENTINE’S DAY ARTIST: Few artists can rival French 18th century master Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806), as the creator of love in art. He worked during the Rococo period, renowned for its pursuit of beauty and joie de vivre, at least by the royalty and aristocratic class. Among his most famous paintings are: The Stolen Kiss, The Swing, Blind-Man’s Bluff, and The Progress of Love, among others.

A ROMANCE NOVEL? No one has been able to discover the title of her book as well. Whatever the subject, does she look comfortable, her back propped up by a substantial pillow? Her head bent downward, concentrating on the pages before her, Yet, are her fingers rather oddly depicted, two of them curving in opposite directions?

A DRESS TO REMEMBER: Is it the richness of the  yellow that draws us to A GIRL READING? Sometimes described as lemon, its unique color models her charming figure. Notice too the contrasting white of the delicate ruff plus the mix of rose and mauve throughout the rest of the painting.  

THE MAGIC OF PAINT: Fragonard’s brush animates the surfaces of the work,  from the subtle touches defining her face to the more evident highlights of her hair to the slash-like strokes moving across the sleeve.

FRAGONARD’S UNUSUAL FATE? The artist’s life changed with the advent of the French Revolution, overthrowing the privileged society and its members who once supported his successful career. Fragonard  survived, though, until 1806, dying in Paris; according to legend, he had a fatal stroke while eating an ice cream.

First published in 2023.




In the public domain, courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The National Gallery of Art does not endorse or approve use of the above image or any of the material on this website. Nor has the National Gallery of Art participated in any projects utilizing the said image.



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