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Current time:0:00Total duration:5:12

Video transcript

museums take paintings out of context and it's sometimes hard to remember that works of art were meant for domestic environments or churches or even in the case of the paintings that we're looking at now pleasure pavilions we're in the Fragonard room at the Frick Collection and we're looking at one of the late Rococo masterpieces fragonard's the progress of love the first canvas shows the inception of love we see this young boy offering a rose to this rather surprised young girl and in the next panel we see them having a kind of surreptitious meeting followed by an allegory the consummation of love the crowning this would refer to the marriage and then in the last scene the two lovers nostalgically look at their early love letters together and these four panels were made for Madame to bury the mistress of King Louie the 15th 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 right next to a window that's important because the window would have looked out onto the back of the pavilion onto the garden and so all of this dense rich overflowing overflowing yet representation of nature would have had a nice parallel to the landscape outside it's such a dramatic image one really gets a sense of a secret meeting one art historian has suggested that the pose of the young woman is coming directly out of 18th century theater at this moment so we see her suitor climbing up the ladder so this is a little bit of a Romeo and Juliet it is and they don't want to get caught her left hand seems to be saying slow down wait a moment let me see if the coast is clear yeah there is this wonderful sense of anticipation their bodies lean toward one another and form a pyramid that leads our eye up to the figure of Cupid and Venus so as if the painting wasn't clear enough the artist is going to 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 is now being punished her pose mirrors the trees behind her that leaned up and 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 to the foliage mirroring the garden outside and that thing that I love so much about Fragonard the sense that nature can't be controlled it overflows everywhere this is a painting where subtlety is in short supply nature taking over being uncontrolled seems to be a perfect metaphor upper young love as it would happen Madame Du Barry would actually reject these panels and what a mistake these are Fragonard great masterpiece naturally our 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 ado and that these rokoko paintings wouldn't fit within the classically inspired architecture and classically inspired sculpture so Madame Du Barry hires instead an artist who painted in a more classical style named VM 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 noblemen of society or of the individual it was precisely paintings about indulgence and pleasure that the philosophers of the Enlightenment attacked and associated with the corruption of the aristocracy and the monarchy these paintings about love and pleasure were meant to be situated in the pleasure pavilion of the mistress of the King what could be a better exemplar of everything that was wrong with France and everything that the revolution would fight against and everything that the new style of neoclassicism would reject 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 the young male lover may have looked a little bit too much like Louis the 15th now when madame de Bary rejected these paintings and something back to Fragonard he was never paid he later added ten 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 rokoko and the imminence of the revolution dahveed won't 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 rokoko and neoclassicism and the revolution