Jean-Honoré Fragonard

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Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Ruggiero and Alcina at the Bath
ca. 1780-1785
Brown wash over black chalk.
15 1/2 x 9 1/2 inches (394 x 241 mm)
Thaw Collection.

Among the most exuberant drawings in Fragonard's oeuvre are at least 179 illustrations inspired by Ludovico Ariosto's epic love poem "Orlando Furioso", originally published between 1516 and 1532. The poem tells of the Christian knight Orlando who loses his wits when he discovers his love, the pagan princess Angelica, has married another. His cousin Astolpho embarks on a journey to recover Orlando's wits, which he finally discovers on the moon. Major subplots include the romantic challenges of the female Christian warrior Bradamante and the Saracen knight Ruggiero, and the war in which Charlemagne's army eventually triumphs over the fictional Saracen king Agramante.
It is unknown if Fragonard embarked upon this series for his own pleasure or if he hoped to secure a commission for an illustrated edition of the poem. Had such a commission been forthcoming, he would have been obliged to produce more finished iterations of each composition, since his preliminary designs were too inchoate to serve as a template for the engraver. Most of the drawings depict scenes from the first half of the poem and were executed in the growing revolutionary climate of the 1780s, when the artist had entered his 50s.
The present sheet likely depicts Alcina, a seductive sorceress who presides over an island of sensual pleasures. The Saracen warrior Ruggiero has been abducted and brought to her palace, where his innocent love for Bradamante is forgotten and he eagerly reaches for Alcina as she gingerly enters the bath (Canto 7, verse 31).


Watermark: Maltese cross within a circle, surmounted by a crown.

The artist's estate; Hippolyte Walferdin (1795-1880), Paris (the complete set of Ariosto drawings probably purchased directly from the Fragonard family); his sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 12-16 April 1880, lot 228 ("136 compositions"); purchased by Louis Roederer (d. 1880), Reims; by descent to his nephew, Léon-Olry Roederer (d. 1932); bought by A.S.W. Rosenbach (1876-1952), Philadelphia, for the Rosenbach Company, in 1922; to John Fleming (1910-1987), after Rosenbach's death in 1952; sold to a private collector in 1955; Thomas Agnew & Sons, Ltd., London, 1978; Eugene V. and Clare E. Thaw, New York and Santa Fe.
Associated names: 

Walferdin, Hippolyte, former owner.
Roederer, Louis, former owner.
Roederer, Léon-Olry, former owner.
Rosenbach, A. S. W. (Abraham Simon Wolf), 1876-1952, former owner.
Fleming, John, former owner.
Thaw, Eugene Victor, former owner.
Thaw, Clare, former owner.
Ariosto, Lodovico, 1474-1533. Orlando furioso.


Thaw Catalogue Raisonné, 2017, no. 126, repr.
Denison, Cara D. et al. Drawings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene Victor Thaw. Part II. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1985, no. 12, repr.
Denison, Cara D. The Thaw Collection : Master Drawings and New Acquisitions. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library, 1994, p. 259, repr.
Perrin Stein et al., Fragonard: Drawing Triumphant. Works from New York Collections, exh. Cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2016, no. 91.