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Video transcript

(lively music) Dr. Zucker: [unintelligible] take paintings out of context and it's sometimes hard to remember that works of art were meant for domestic environments. Dr. Harris: Or churches or even in the case of the paintings that we're looking at now, Pleasure Pavilions. Dr. Zucker: We're in the Fragonard room at the Frick Collection and we're looking at one of the late Rococo masterpieces. Dr. Harris: Fragonard's the Progress of Love. Dr. Zucker: The first canvas shows the inception of love. We see this young boy offering a rose to this rather surprised young girl. Dr. Harris: And in the next panel, we see them having a kind of surreptitious meeting. Dr. Zucker: Followed by an allegory of the consummation of love, the crowning. This would refer to the marriage. Dr. Harris: And then in the last scene, the two lovers nostalgically looking at their early love letters together. And these four panels were made for Madame du Barry, the mistress of King Louis XV. Dr. Zucker: The consort of the king himself. Let's look at one of the panels. Let's look at the meeting. That's my favorite. When we walk up to the meeting, the second panel of the series, you realize how large it is. It's a really substantial painting and it would have been in a relatively small room. Dr. Zucker: Right next to a window. Dr. Zucker: That's important because the window would have looked out onto the back of the pavilion onto the garden. Dr. Harris: Overflowing (chuckles) Dr. Zucker: Overflowing, yeah, representation of nature, would've had a nice parallel to the landscape outside. Dr. Harris: It's such a dramatic image. One really gets a sense of a secret meeting. Dr. Zucker: One art historian suggested that the pose of the young woman is coming directly out of 18th century theater at this moment. Dr. Harris: So, we see her suitor climbing up the ladder. Dr. Zucker: So, this is a little bit of a Romeo and Juliet. Dr. Harris: It is and they don't wanna get caught. Dr. Zucker: Her left hand seems to be saying, "Slow down. Wait a moment. "Let me see if the coast is clear." Dr. Harris: (laughs) Yeah. Dr. Zucker: There is this wonderful sense of anticipation. Dr. Harris: Their bodies leaned toward one another and formed a pyramid that leads our eye up to the figure of Cupid and Venus. Dr. Zucker: So as if the painting wasn't clear enough. They are just gonna make sure that we know what this is about. Venus, of course, the Goddess of Love. Cupid, her son. She's withholding his quiver of arrows. I suspect, she's caught him being naughty. He's let those arrows loose on the couple below and he's now being punished. Dr. Harris: Her pose mirrors the trees behind her that leaned up in toward the right side of the canvas. So, there's a V-shaped parting where we see the sky between Venus and Cupid. We referred a moment ago that the foliage mirroring the garden outside and that's the thing that I love so much about Fragonard. The sense that nature can't be controlled. It overflows everywhere. Dr. Zucker: This is a painting where subtlety is in short supply. Nature taking over, being uncontrolled, seems to be a perfect metaphor for young love. As to what happened, Madame du Barry would actually reject these panels and what a mistake. These are Fragonard's great masterpiece. Dr. Harris: Naturally, art historians have a couple of theories why she rejected them. One has to do with the fact that the architecture of the pavilion was decidedly classical by an Architect named Ledoux and that these Rococo paintings wouldn't have fit within the classically inspired architecture and the classically inspired sculpture. So, Madame du Barry hires instead an artist who painted in a more classical style named Vien. Dr. Zucker: But to look at the Fragonard's, is to have a window into the aristocracy. These are paintings that are about indulgence. Satisfying oneself. After all, these were for a pleasure palace. These are not paintings that are about moral goods, the noblement of society or of the individual. Dr. Harris: It was precisely paintings about indulgence and pleasure that the philosophers of the enlightment attacked and associated with the corruption of the aristocracy and the monarchy. Dr. Zucker: These paintings about love and pleaure, were meant to be situated in the Pleasure Pavilion Dr. Harris: (laughs) Dr. Zucker: What could be a better exemplar of everything that was wrong with France? Dr. Harris: And everything that the revolution would fight against and everything that the new style of Neoclassicism would reject. Dr. Zucker: So interesting that Madame du Barry, herself rejects these paintings. Another possible reason that these panels were rejected, has to do with the protagonists and the way, they're depicted. Some art historians have suggested that the young woman, perhaps looked a little bit too much like Madame du Barry and that the young male lover, may have looked a little bit too much like Louis XV. Dr. Harris: Now, when Madame du Barry rejected these paintings and sent them back to Fragonard, he was never paid. He later added 10 other panels and all of them fortunately, can be seen here together at the Frick Collection. It's interesting to think about Fragonard coming at this later moment of the Rococo and the imminence of the revolution. David will protect Fragonard during the revolution and find him a post within the Arts Administration. And so, Fragonard's career spans this interesting moment of the late Rococo and Neoclassicism in the revolution. (lively music)