Jean-Honoré Fragonard was born on April 5, 1732 in Grasse in Provence, but had moved to Paris by the age of six. On the advice of François Boucher, he studied briefly with Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) but then returned to the studio of Boucher, around 1749-1750, and trained there for two or three years (see P483). Boucher was an essential conduit for the influence of Watteau on Fragonard and would remain an important direct influence on Fragonard’s art. It was with his support that Fragonard, not a student at the Académie royale, entered the contest for the Grand Prix. He won that prize in 1752, on his first try, with 'Jeroboam Sacrificing to the Idols' (Paris, École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts). Before leaving for Italy, he studied at the École des élèves protégés, the school for the most promising young history painters. Fragonard was already considered a great young talent of the grand manner.
It was several years before he could travel to Italy for his first trip, in 1756-1761. He arrived in Rome in December of 1756, to study at the Académie de France, under the guidance of Academy director Charles-Joseph Natoire (1700-1777). Fragonard began to produce genre paintings for private patrons while in Italy, as well as plein-air landscape drawings in the company of Hubert Robert (1733-1808), himself in Rome at that time. Claude-Richard, abbé de Saint-Non, an amateur and collector, arrived in Rome in 1759, and invited Fragonard to travel with him to Tivoli in 1760. Fragonard would make his return to Paris in the company of Saint-Non, and the two toured Italy together for almost six months, during which time Fragonard continued to copy Italian masterworks. Saint-Non would be an important admirer and patron for the artist.
On his return to Paris, he made his sensational debut with 'Coresus and Callirhoë' (Paris, Musée du Louvre) in the Salon of 1765. Then, for reasons that remain unclear but which may include financial considerations, he abandoned history painting to concentrate on private patrons and commissions. He exhibited at the Salon for the last time in 1767, and that is the same year one of his most famous ‘private’ works was created, 'Les hazard heureux de l’escarpolette' (The Swing, P430). Fragonard did not return to the Salon. He was much sought after and concentrated on amorous subjects, large decorations, portraits, book illustration and landscapes, revealing a brilliance of brushstroke, an inventiveness of theme, and an absorption of lessons from Watteau, Boucher, Dutch landscape, Italian painting. His works play with different styles and degrees of finish, an approach directed at a small numbers of connoisseurs.
He returned to Italy in 1773, in the company of Pierre-Jacques-Onésyme Bergeret de Grancourt, a very wealthy fermier-general, and quite possibly made a trip to Holland as well, although this is not certain. He returned to Grasse in 1790, carrying with him the rejected 'Progress of Love' series made for Madame du Barry (New York, Frick Collection). Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), his loyal student, brought him back to Paris and made him the curator of the Louvre in 1793.