(instrumental Baroque music) – I’m Colin Bailey, Deputy Director and Peter
Jay Sharp Chief Curator at The Frick Collection, and we are standing in the one of the most beautiful rooms in any museum, anywhere. It’s the Fragonard Room that was acquired by Mr. Frick in 1915 and installed at the end of 1916, and it’s one of the treasures of New York. In this room, we have an assemblage of wonderful furniture, porcelain, sculpture. But the room was created as home to Fragonard’s great panels,
the Progress of Love. Frick paid one and a quarter
million dollars for these in 1915, the largest sum
he spent on any work of art in the collection. The room has been refurbished, relit, it gives great pleasure. But it has a story that
is difficult to understand unless we go back to 1771 and the commission to Fragonard by the countess du Barry, Louis the 15th’s 28-year-old
maitresse en titre. Jeanne Becu, countess du Barry, was the lover and mistress
of the aging Louis the 15th. She was given a new residence not far from Versailles, and she had the leading
architect of the day, Claude Nicolas Ledoux, create a pavilion for her at Louveciennes. He built it within a year, and the best craftsman,
sculptors, artisans, and artists were employed to furnish
this pleasure pavilion. Fragonard, Jean-Honore Fragonard, the great hope of the French school, was given one room to decorate. These were the most important paintings at Louveciennes, and Fragonard, the patron, and the architect, chose the story of the Progress of Love. When we enter the room at The Frick, we have no real idea
how these four pictures were initially installed. Imagine that we are in Louveciennes in this horseshoe shaped salon, in the palace overlooking a garden. As you entered the palace, you would see two pictures
on either side of a window looking into a garden. The 1st picture you would
see was The Pursuit. This is the picture that would be straight ahead of you
as you entered the room. On the right hand side of the window, the 2nd picture that you would come to was The Meeting, which we see here. Imagine then, turning around
and walking through the room. On the left hand side of the
door by which you came in, was The Lover Crowned. That’s the only picture
that is in the spot that it was for Madame du Barry in 1772. And the final picture, the 4th picture on the
other side of the entry door would be Love Letters, the
last picture in the series. So, let’s recall the order. We start with The Pursuit on the left hand side of the window. Secondly is The Meeting on the right hand side of the window, with the garden view in between. Turning around, we see the 3rd picture, The Lover Crowned, and the picture that ends the series on the right hand side is Love Letters. What is Fragonard
telling us in this story? Fragonard was trained at the Academy. He was intelligent,
highly trained, visually very alert artist, who was comfortable with a whole range of symbols, ideas, emblems, and motifs. He marshals a great deal of this learning in an effortless and beautiful way in the creation of this story, and the story is the Progress of Love, the four ages of love, if you will. In the first picture, a young gallant offers a flower to his would-be mistress. She is running away, but not too fast, and she’s surrounded by chaperones. We see in the background,
a sculpture, of a dolphin and two putti, who are
pulling the dolphin back. Sculptures are key to
understanding the story in Fragonard’s pictures. In this one, we see a dolphin
and its putti, holding back. Dolphins were Jupiter’s
agents in love affairs. They were the beasts that he sent to capture the beautiful maidens. In this image, they are
symbols of arrested, or expectant, desire. Desire is in the air, but love
is not happening quite yet. In the 2nd picture, The Meeting, remember, this would be
on the right hand side of the garden window, and in fact, the young girl is looking into the garden. Perhaps it’s someone or something that she is unaware of. An assignation is planned, the young man is climbing
the ladder into the garden, the girl is definitely
aware that he is coming and is looking forward to seeing him. The sculpture here shows Venus, the goddess of love, holding a quiver of arrows away from the young
Cupid, the god of love. Love is not quite ready to take place. The god of love is impatient. The goddess of love is holding back. We are not, as it were, quite there yet. Turning around, looking
with the garden behind you, we would come to number
three in the series, The Lover Crowned. Here, everything is in bloom. The garden is at its most verdant, floral. We can almost smell the scents of the peonies, the roses, the orange tree, the myrtle tree. The lovers, who are being
recorded for posterity by the young artist, are actually wearing theatrical costume. The ruffles, the ribbons, the cakes, and audience at the time
would have recognized this as being stage performing costume. Cupid, on the other hand, has fallen asleep. His little quiver is empty. His work is done. This is the consummation. Love is finally given full expression. And so to conclude the series, the last picture in the series shows Love Letters. Here, the two lovers, barely aged, in fact, no one is very
old in these pictures, no one gets older in these pictures. The two lovers, barely aged, reminisce over their past story together. The girl is seated on an altar of love. Their letters are around them, some of them with their seals visible. The little dog, a symbol
of fidelity at the bottom, and a sculpture, the only
sculpture in white marble, on the right. If we look closely, this
is not Venus and Cupid. This is a woman holding
a heart to her breast while a young putto with
wings is requesting it. It was a well known sign
of friendship, or amity. In other words, once the
heart was given once, it remained given for always. For a long time, it was not understood how the story could end in friendship rather than in consummate love. But in fact, in the Enlightenment, in the time that Fragonard was working, many of the most forward thinking writers talked about how passionate love, placed and guarded by virtue and fidelity, would end in long and lasting friendship, and this is what Fragonard has given us in the final sequence. In addition to the sculpture, and how we can see how the
different emblems and motifs lead us through the story, Fragonard is also a
master of using landscape. We see in the early
painting of The Pursuit, the growing excitement. Suddenly, trees and flowers
are burgeoning in the meeting, but everything is in full bloom, once we get to the Lover Crowned. Finally, in Love Letters, there’s a sense of a contentment. Calm. No longer is nature so agitated. The trees are bowed together. There is a sense of peace and fulfillment. As beautiful and as successful as this series of paintings was, hard though it is to believe, once they were hanging, Madame de Barry was not happy with them. In fact, she rejected them. She sent them back to Fragonard,
she didn’t pay Fragonard for a year’s work, and this was a public rejection of his latest and most ambitious painting. It was a hard blow for the artist who actually left Paris for one year, traveling throughout Italy, in a way, to lick his wounds. It was the last major decorative series that he would ever undertake. Now, 20 years later, after the Revolution had just begun, Fragonard and his family
went back south to Grasse, the town he was from,
and they took with them, the four pictures for Madame du Barry, they were his most important possessions. Fragonard was the tenant
in Grasse in 1790, of a perfume producing notary cousin, a wealthy bourgeois cousin, whose 17th century
villa needed decorating. Fragonard sold his
cousin the four pictures for Madame du Barry, but
the salon in which his cousin hung them, was larger than the salon in which they
had hung for Madame de Barry. And so Fragonard had to
paint a series of overdoors and more importantly, two large panels to complete the series. These pictures, we see immediately, are painted in a different way. Their coloring is more
autominal, more russet like. The handling is more
abbreviated, slightly sketchier. They have an eroticism that
is actually more adult, more pressing, than the earlier,
playful progress of love. In The Triumph of Love, we see an amorous pair of putti embracing, love’s fires are burning,
and jealousy is being scorned by the figures down below. This picture hung over a fireplace, and so we have a conceit
of the flames of the fire lifting up into the picture, as it moves to the heavens beyond. But the most significant
addition was revere, which we see here. A young woman, inadvertent space, under a sundial, in a hot afternoon. If we look closely, we can
see the time is 12:00 midday. This was known as the
hour of the shepherds, the time when amorous swains would leave off their work, and take pretty shepherdesses
into the fields beyond to make love together. It was a highly charged subject. And in fact, the young woman, whose body language in itself, suggest erotic revere
is thinking about love, is thinking about the pleasures of love, and in fact, is introducing us to the series that we see in the room, The Progress. Fragonard’s paintings stayed in Grasse for a hundred years. Gradually, they became
part of a pilgrimage route for anyone interested in the artist. They were finally sold off
by the family to J.P. Morgan, the great financier, who had them sent to his house in
London in Princess Gate, and in fact, built an
entire room for them. When Morgan died in 1913, his entire collection, his enormous collection, was sent to the Metropolitan Museum
for memorial exhibition, and the Fragonard Room was recreated exactly as it would have been in Princess Gate, his London home. The dealer Duveen, very cleverly, alerted
Frick to the possibility that this series might be available. Frick, who had spent two years
arguing with his architects about having his house finished on time, did not hesitate for a
minute, to acquire the series, to bring them to the
house, to close the room, and to have the paneling, mirror work, locks, all of the decorative
surrounds, fabricated in Paris during the first years
of the first world war. We experience the room as Mr. Frick and his family
experienced it in 1916, but knowing the backstory, as it were, of Fragonard, Dubare, and the disappointments at Louveciennes, enriches our understanding
of this great room even more. (instrumental Baroque music)