A Gathering at Woods' Edge, ca. 1765–73
Jean–Honoré Fragonard (French, 1732–1806)
Red chalk; 14 3/4 x 19 3/8 in. (37.5 x 49.2 cm)
Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1995 (1995.101)
Unlike the majority of Fragonard's red chalk landscapes, made during a summer at Tivoli in 1760, this drawing is a work of the artist's maturity, probably dating to just before his second trip to Italy in 1773–74. Dense deciduous trees recall the forests around Paris rather than the Roman countryside. The unhesitating, even virtuoso, handling suggests that this is an independent work, probably created in the studio from a related plein-air study now in a private collection. A stand of mature trees, bursting with profuse sunlit foliage, guards the shady entrance to the woods. In a characteristic manipulation of scale, Fragonard presents small groupings of elegant figures, half lost in shadow, as restrained echoes of the vigor and fecundity of the overgrown landscape. The dramatic naturalism associated with the Dutch landscapists, especially Jacob van Ruisdael, is here merged with a vision of nature as a welcoming milieu for aristocratic dalliance, a legacy of Watteau's fêtes galantes.