Fragonard Part 2
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There lived in Gra.s.se, with its rich harvests of flowers, and given to the distilling of perfumes therefrom, a family that had come from Avignon--its name, Gerard, and on friendly terms with the Fragonards.
It so chanced that a young woman of the family, the seventeen-year-old Marie Anne Gerard, was sent to Paris, to the care of Fragonard, in order to earn her living in the shop of a scent-seller, one Isnard.
The girl had artistic leanings, and fell a-painting of fans and miniatures. She had need of a teacher; and who better qualified for the business than her townsman, the famous Fragonard? What more natural than that Fragonard should become her master? She was a jovial girl. So they would talk of home, and the people amongst whom they had been bred. She was no particular beauty, as her picture by Fragonard proves; she had the rough accent of Provence; was thick-set and clumsy of figure, and of heavy features, but she had the youth and freshness and health of a young woman's teens, that hide the blemishes and full significance of these coa.r.s.enesses. She and Fragonard fell a-kissing.
Fragonard, now thirty-seven, married Marie Anne Gerard in her eighteenth year; and she bore him a much loved daughter, Rosalie--and ten years later, in 1780, a son, Alexandre Evariste Fragonard.
There came to live with the newly married couple his wife's younger sister Marguerite and her young brother Henri Gerard, who was learning engraving.
[Ill.u.s.tration: PLATE VI.--LE VOEU a L'AMOUR
(In the Louvre)
This is an example of Fragonard in his grand-manner mood--a picture of the large decorative years that produced such masterpieces as the "Serment d'Amour," in which we see him ever interested above all things in the painting of bosky leaf.a.ge and the dignity of great trees for background.]
Fragonard's marriage at once affected his habits and his art. The wild oats of his artistic career were near sown. The naughtinesses of girls of pleasure gave place to the grace and tenderness of the home-life--the cradle took the place of the bed of light adventures; and children blossomed on to his canvases. He set aside the make-believe shepherds and shepherdesses of the vogue; and henceforth painted the "real thing" in rural surroundings.
He brought to his homeliest pictures a beauty of arrangement, a sense of style, and a dignity worthy of the most majestic subjects. He came at this time under the influence of the Dutch landscapists, and stole from them the solidity of their ma.s.sing in foliage, the truth of their character-drawing, the close observation of their cattle and animal-life, their cloudy skies, and the finish and force of their craftsmans.h.i.+p. Whether he went into Holland is disputed. He was too keen an artist, his was too original a genius, to imitate their style or take on their Dutch accent. He simply took from them such part of their craftsmans.h.i.+p as could enter into the facile gracious genius of France without clogging its grace. He is now content with his house and garden for scenery, with his family for models. He realises that an artist has no need to go abroad to find "paintable things."
The "Heureuse Fecondite," the "Visit to the Nurse" (the second one), the "Schoolmistress," the "Good Mother," the "Retour au logis," the "L'Education fait tout," the "Dites donc, si'l vous plait," are of this period.
In all he did he proves himself an artist, incapable of mediocrity, bringing distinction and style to all that he touches.
Fragonard also excelled in the painting of miniatures. And there are small portraits under fancy names to be seen at the Louvre, painted with a breadth and force that prove him to have known the work of Franz Hals. The figure of a man, known as "Figure de Fantaisie" or "Inspiration," is stated with a directness and vividness worthy of the great Dutch master. Indeed, there is much in the direct handling of the paint and the life of the thing that recalls Franz Hals--the very arrangement of the dress and the treatment of the hand being a careless attempt to recall the habits and fas.h.i.+ons of the Dutchman.
"La Musique" repeats the impression. And even the more p.r.o.nouncedly French style of the pretty woman in "La Chanteuse" does not disguise the inspiration of Franz Hals in the painting of the bodice, the cuffs, and the details--the high ruffle is "dragged in" from Hals's day. The "Music Lesson" at the Louvre was painted about the same time.
Fragonard's old master, Boucher, for some time had been "going about like a shadow of himself." The year after Fragonard's marriage the old painter was found dead, sitting at his easel before an unfinished picture of Venus, the brush fallen out of his fingers--the light of the "Glory of Paris" gone out.
Boucher died a few months before that Christmas Eve of 1770 that saw Choiseul driven from power by the trio of knaves who used the vulgar but kindly woman Du Barry as their tool--indeed she refused to pull the great minister down until she had made handsome terms on his behalf; Choiseul was too astute a man not to recognise what lay beyond the shadow of her pretty skirts--nay, does he not turn in the courtyard as he leaves the palace to go into banishment, his _lettre de cachet_ in his pocket, and, seeing a woman looking out from a window at the end of an alley, bow and kiss his hand to the window where gazes out of tear-filled eyes this strange doomed beauty who has won to the sceptre of France? 'Twas four years before the small-pox took the king--four years during which this same Du Barry, with her precious trio, d'Aiguillon, Maupeou, and Terray, sent the members of Parliament into banishment--years that launched royal France on its downward rus.h.i.+ng, with laughter and riot, to its doom, whilst the apathetic Louis shrugged his now gross royal shoulders at all warnings of catastrophe, which to give him due credit, he was scarce witless enough or blind enough not to foresee. Nay, did he not even admit it in his constantly affirmed, if cynical, creed that "things, as they were, would last as long as he; and he that came after him must s.h.i.+ft for himself"? Ay; he came even nearer to the kernel of the significance of things, when, shrugging his no longer well-beloved shoulders, as the Pompadour had done, he repeated her cynical saying of "_Apres nous le deluge_." It was to be a deluge indeed--scarlet red.
Wit and ruthless fatuity were the order of the day; these folk were wondrous full of the neatly turned phrase and the polished epigram.
Most fatuous of them all, and as ruthless as any, was Terray--he who tinkered with finance, with crown to his many infamies the scandalous _Pacte de Famille_, that mercantile company that was to produce an artificial rise in the price of corn by buying up the grain of France, exporting it, and bringing it back for sale at vast profit--with Louis of France as considerable shareholder. Had not the owners of the land the right to do what they would with their own? 'Twas small wonder that the well-beloved became the highly-detested of the groaning people--he and his precious privileged cla.s.s.
Yet Louis of France spake prophecy--if unwitting of it. The guillotine was not to have him. In 1774 he was stricken down with the small-pox, and the sick-room in the palace saw the Du Barry and her party fight a duel with Choiseul's party for his possession--never, surely, was a more grim, more fantastic warfare than that bitter intrigue to get the confessor to the king's bedside, that meant the dismissal of the favourite before he should be allowed to receive the Absolution--in which the strange blasphemy was enacted of the Eucharist being hustled about the pa.s.sages, whilst the bigots strove against its administration, and the freethinkers demanded the last consolation of the Church. On the 10th of May the small-pox took his distempered body, "already a ma.s.s of corruption," that was hastily flung into a coffin and hurried without pomp, or circ.u.mstance, or pretence of honours to St. Denis--being rattled thereto at the trot, the crowd that lined the way showering epigrams not wholly friendly upon its pa.s.sing; and was buried amongst the bones of the ancient kings of his race, unattended by the Court, and amidst the contempt and loud curses of his people.
Even the poor weeping Du Barry was gone, hustled from the palace at the wandering orders of the dying delirious king. D'Aiguillon also, and Maupeou and Terray were gone. And the Court was hailing the new king and his queen--ill-fated Louis the Sixteenth and tactless Marie Antoinette.
The scandalous levity of the privileged cla.s.s of the day, and its ruthless vindictiveness when thwarted, had near done their work. A proud and gallant people touched bottom in humiliation. The pens of the wits and thinkers sent the new opinion broadcast amongst a people wholly scandalised and punished by the corruption of their governors.
These writings made astounding and alarming way. The "intellectuals"
were all on the side of the people--Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot, Rousseau, d'Alembert, Helvetius, Condillac, the Abbe Raynal. With wit and sarcasm and invective and argument, they stirred pa.s.sions, appealing to self-respect and dignity and honour and the innate love of freedom in the strong; they appealed to common-sense, to the craving for liberty in man's being, to the rights of the individual; and the printing-press scattered their wit and wisdom throughout the land to the uttermost corners of France. They sneered away false aristocracy, false religion. They wrought to overthrow the old order, and brought it into contempt. And they needed to manufacture no evidence. France had lain supine, a mighty people as they proved themselves when their right arms were freed--lain in chains under the heel of a king who had been capable of setting their necks under the feet of a trivial and foolish woman, whose nursery had been the gutter.
Yet Du Barry, when all her faults are set against her, suffered undue execration. She had no grain of ill-will in her nature. During her reign the Bastille received no prisoner at her ordering--vengeance was not in her. She was the tool of unscrupulous men; but she came between them and their base vengeances, and kept the Court free from the brutalities that the Pompadour meted out to her enemies without a pang of remorse. During the whole of her reign, she visited her old mother every fortnight, and lavished benefits on her kin--whom most women, thus suddenly raised to the n.o.blesse, would have avoided like a plague. The scoundrels who made her their toy were responsible for every evil deed that she was accused of committing. And even the new king, whose sharp _lettre de cachet_, written two days after he came to the throne, banished her to a convent, soon relented, and allowed her to go back to her home at Luciennes. The Du Barry had striven to abolish the _lettre de cachet_; the new king brought it back, inaugurating his reign by having one sent to the woman whose gentleness and kindliness had shrunk from the accursed thing. It was a fit omen of the well-meaning but incompetent king's tragic reign which was about to begin.
To Fragonard these things were but tattle; yet the doing of them was to reach to his hearth; the consequences of them were to strip him bare and wreck him--he was to see his wife and womenkind dragging through the streets of Paris to beg bread and meat at the gates of the city. But the future was mercifully hidden from him. He was now at the height of his career; and was to taste wider success.
[Ill.u.s.tration: PLATE VII.--THE FAIR-HAIRED BOY
(In the Wallace Collection)
To the visitor to the Wallace collection the picture by Fragonard next best known after the "Chiffre d'Amour" and the "Swing," is this exquisite study of a fair-haired boy--the child is painted with a subtle grace and consummate delicacy rarely combined with the directness and impressionism here displayed by Fragonard.]
Fragonard's name will always be linked with that of his friend and patron, a wealthy man, the farmer-general Bergeret de Grandcour.
His family visited at the rich man's houses in town and country.
Now the career of a rich man was incomplete without the making of the Grand Tour. At the least the gentleman of means must have roamed through Italy. And it was thus that, with Bergeret de Grandcour, Fragonard now made his second journey into Italy in his forty-second year.
Fragonard was delighted at the prospect of seeing his loved Italy again after twelve years. It was a family party--Fragonard and his wife, with Bergeret de Grandcour and his son, to say nothing of Bergeret's servants and cook and following. It was a happy, merry journeying in extravagant luxury.
Fragonard had aforetime gone into Italy as a penniless student and an unknown man; he now travelled in the grand style as the guest of a man of affairs, visiting palaces and churches, received in state by the highest in the land, dining with the Amba.s.sador of France, having audience of the Pope, advising Bergeret de Grandcour in the buying of art-treasures. He tasted all the delights of great wealth. He went to a concert "chez le lord Hamilton," seeing and speaking with _la belle Emma_--Nelson's Emma. He stood in Naples; he tramped up Vesuvius. It was at Naples the news came that Louis the Fifteenth lay dying of the small-pox--a few days later the old king died.
The party at once turned their faces homewards, returning to Paris in leisurely fas.h.i.+on by way of Venice, Vienna, and Germany, only to know, at the journey's ending, one of those miserable and sordid quarrels that seem to dog the friends.h.i.+ps of men of genius. Going to Bergeret de Grandcour's house in Paris to get his portfolios of sketches, made throughout the journey, Fragonard found to his amazement and consternation that Bergeret de Grandcour angrily refused to give them up, claiming them as payment for his outlay upon him during the Italian journey. The sorry business ended in the law-courts, and in the loss of the lawsuit by Bergeret de Grandcour, who was condemned to give up the drawings or to pay a 30,000 livres fine (6000). The ugly breach that threatened to open between them, however, was soon healed by reconciliation; and Bergeret de Grandcour's son became one of Fragonard's closest and most intimate friends.
Louis the Sixteenth, third son of the Dauphin who had been Louis the Fifteenth's only lawful son, ascended the throne in his twentieth year, a pure-minded young fellow, full of good intentions, sincerely anxious for the well-being of his people; but of a diffident and timid character, and under the influence of a young consort, the beautiful Queen Marie Antoinette, of imperious temper and of light and frivolous manners, who brought to her counsels a deplorable lack of judgment.
The Du Barry sent a-packing, and d'Aiguillon and the rest of their crew, the young king recalled the crafty old Maurepas who had been banished by the Pompadour, an ill move--though the setting of Turgot over the finances augured well. And when the great minister Turgot fell, he gave way to as good a man, the worthy honest banker, Neckar.
In a happy hour Fragonard was granted by the king the eagerly sought haven of the artists of his time--a studio and apartments at the old palace of the Louvre, as his master Boucher had been granted them before him.
Settling in with his wife, his girl Rosalie, his son Alexandre Evariste, and his talented sister-in-law Marguerite Gerard, he lived thereat a life almost opulent, making large sums of money, some eight thousand pounds a year, at this time. He joyed in decorating his rooms. He was the life and soul of a group of brilliant men who gathered about him, having the deepest affection for him.
His sister-in-law, Marguerite Gerard, was as gay and distinguished in manners, and as beautiful, as his jovial wife was dull and vulgar and coa.r.s.e--the vile accent of Gra.s.se, that made his wife's speech horrible to the ear, becoming slurred into a shadow of itself on Marguerite's tongue, and turned by the enchanting accents of the younger sister's lips into seduction. This girl's friends.h.i.+p and companions.h.i.+p became an ever-increasing delight to the aging painter.
Their correspondence, when apart, was pa.s.sionately affectionate. Ugly scandals got abroad--scandals difficult to prove or disprove. The man and woman were of like tastes, of like temperaments; it was, likely enough, little more than that. The girl was of a somewhat cold nature; and we must read her last letters as censoriously as her first--when, in reply to Fragonard, evil days having fallen upon him, and being old and next to ruined, on his asking her for money to help him, she, who owed everything to him, refused him with the trite sermon: "to practise economy, to be reasonable, and to remember that in brooding over fancies one only increases them without being any the happier."
But this was not as yet.
Fragonard, happy in his home at the Louvre, free from cares, content amongst devoted friends, reached his fifty-fifth year when he had suddenly to gaze horrified at the first ugly hint that, in the years to come, he must expect to hear the scythe of the Great Reaper--know the pa.s.sing of friends and loved ones. He was to reel under the first serious blow of his life. His bright, witty, winsome girl Rosalie died in her eighteenth year. It nearly killed him.
But there was a blacker, a vaster shadow came looming over the land--a threat that boded ill for such as took life too airily.
In an unfortunate moment for the royal house, and against the will of the king and of Neckar, the nation went mad with enthusiasm over England's revolted American colonies; and the alliance was formed that France swore not to sever until America was declared independent. It started the war with England. The successes of the revolted colonies made the coming of the Revolution in France a certainty. The fall of Neckar and the rise of the new minister, Calonne, sent France rus.h.i.+ng to the brink. The distress of the people became unbearable. The royal family and the Court sank in the people's respect, and the people were no longer the people of the decade before--they had watched the Revolution in America, and they had seen the Revolution victorious.
The fall of Calonne only led to the rise of the turbulent and stupid Cardinal de Brienne; and the Court was completely foul of the people when De Brienne threw up office in a panic and fled across the frontier, leaving the Government in utter confusion.
The king recalled Neckar. The calling of the States-General now became a.s.sured. Paris rang with the exultation of the Third Estate.
The States-General met at Versailles on the 5th of May 1789. The monarchy was at an end. In little over a month the States-General created itself the National a.s.sembly. The Revolution was begun. The 14th of July saw the fall of the Bastille. On the 22nd the people hanged Foulon to the street-lamp at the corner of the Place de Greve--and _a la lanterne!_ became the cry of fas.h.i.+on.
Fragonard was in his fifty-seventh year when he heard in his lodging at the Louvre the thunderclap of this 14th of July 1789--saw the dawn of the Revolution.
The rose of the dawn was soon to turn to blood-red crimson. The storm had been muttering and growling its curses for years before the death of Louis the Fifteenth. It came up in threatening blackness darkly behind the dawn, and was soon to break with a roar upon reckless Paris. It came responsive to the rattle of musketry in the far West, hard by Boston harbour.
Fragonard and his friends were of the independents--they were liberals whom love of elegance had not prevented from sympathising with the sufferings of the people, and who had thrilled with the new thought.
Fragonard's intelligence drew him naturally towards the new ideas; indeed he owed little to the Court; and when France was threatened by the coalition of Europe against her, he, with Gerard, David, and others, went on the 7th of September with the artist's womenfolk to give up their jewelry to the National a.s.sembly.
Fragonard Part 2
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Fragonard Part 2 summary
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