masterpieces to be reunited
in Toledo after 25 years
The original wardrobe malfunction might have originated more
than 250 years ago, at the hands of a 20-something Frenchman
named Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
Fragonard was only beginning to discover his niche as a
portrayer of thinly veiled eroticism when he painted an errant
body part peeking out from his subject’s frilly 18th-century
dress. The resulting work of art,
Blind Man’s Buff, and its companion,
The See-Saw, comprised a pair of paintings that must
have delighted his patron with symbolic depictions of seduction.
The two works will be reunited for the first time in 25 years in
a special focus exhibition at the Toledo Museum of Art
Love and Play: A Pair of Paintings by Fragonard, on
view Jan. 24 – May 4, 2014 in Gallery 28. It’s the first in the
ENCOUNTERS series, concentrated shows and
installations that pair exceptional works of art in new or
Blind Man’s Buff,
part of the
Museum’s collection, and
The See-Saw, on loan from the Thyssen-Bornemisza
Museum, Madrid, will be displayed alongside two engraved copies
of the paintings, a terracotta sculpture by Clodion and a small
selection of French decorative arts of the period.
“They’re risqué, they’re provocative—and the artist intended
these canvases to be seen together,” said Lawrence W. Nichols,
William Hutton senior curator of European and American painting
and sculpture before 1900. “So to reunite these two very
important paintings by one of the most significant French
artists of the 18th century is quite an exciting opportunity.”
Painted in Paris in the first years of the 1750s, they were
likely commissioned by Baron Baillet de Saint-Julien and
subsequently passed through the hands of private 18th-century
collectors, a Parisian
comte and a Rothschild. When they came onto the open
market in 1954, they were finally separated.
The companion works were later brought together in temporary
exhibitions held in London in 1968 and both Paris and New York
in 1987 and 1988.
Fragonard (1732–1806) was one of the premier artists of the
18th-century Rococo era of French painting, along with
Jean-Antoine Watteau, Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, and
François Boucher (all represented in the Museum’s
galleries). The son of a glove maker, Fragonard was born in
Grasse in the south of France and came to Paris with his family
as a young boy. His talent was recognized early on and,
following an initial apprenticeship with Chardin at 18, he
entered the studio of Boucher. Boucher’s art, both in subject
matter and style, became a great influence on the younger
Fragonard’s depictions of love and courtship, which in those
times could have been deemed explicit, were well-received by his
clientele, who were members of the French aristocracy and the
Blind Man’s Buff and
The See-Saw, executed with his characteristically
fluid and effortless handling of paint, epitomized the
hedonistic themes that attracted his patrons.
“His art really embodied the court’s penchant for indulgence,
but it wasn’t intended to be controversial,” Nichols said.
“There was a sexual symbolism that would have been obvious to
Though the paintings will appear as companion works as Fragonard
intended, there will be one unalterable change: the canvases are
now smaller than when they were originally painted.
“Though both are extremely well-preserved works of art, we do
know that they have been cut down,” Nichols said. “We’re going
to examine the original format of the paintings and help the
viewer reconstruct how they were first meant to appear.”
Admission to the exhibition is free. At 7 p.m. on Feb. 7,
Nichols will give a free gallery talk on the featured works.