A Young Girl Reading

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Young Girl Reading
Fragonard, The Reader.jpg
ArtistJean-Honoré Fragonard
Yearc. 1770
Dimensions81.1 cm × 64.8 cm (​31 1516 in × ​25 12 in)
LocationNational Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., United States
X-ray of painting showing original pose

Young Girl Reading, or The Reader (French: La Liseuse), is an 18th-century oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. It was purchased by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC in 1961 using funds donated by Ailsa Mellon Bruce, the daughter of Andrew W. Mellon, following her father's death.[1] Alisa Mellon Bruce was a well-known socialite in Manhattan and gained recognition in the art world from the numerous generous donations she gave to a variety of museums and art programs.


Jean-Honoré Fragonard had an extensive career. It began mainly in when Fragonard won the 1753 Prix de Rome with a painting titled Jeroboam Sacrificing to the Golden Calf.[2][3] Soon after the takeoff of his career, Honoré became a prominent name within the Rococo artistic movement, which was filled light colors, asymmetrical designs, and curved, natural forms. The Rococo style emerged in Paris during the eighteenth century, more specifically during the reign of Louis XV. This was due to the fact that during this time, the French upper class experienced a new social and intellectual freedom. As Petra ten-Doesschate Chu stated, “Aristocrats and wealthy bourgeois focused on play and pleasure. Grace and wit were prized in social interactions. A new intellectual curiosity gave rise to a healthy skepticism toward well-worn truths.” [4] Fragonard was most drawn to the playful lives and loves of the aristocratic youth of his day.[5]


The painting features an unidentified girl wearing a lemon yellow dress with white ruff collar and cuffs and purple ribbons. The subject is depicted in profile, reading from a small book held in her right hand, sitting with her left arm on a wooden rail and her back supported by a large lilac cushion resting against a wall. Her hair is tied in a chignon with a purple ribbon, and her face and dress are lit from the front, casting a shadow in the wall behind her. Fragonard pays close attention to the face, but uses looser brushwork on the dress and cushion, and the ruff was scratched into the paint with the end of a brush. The horizontal line of the armrest and a vertical line between two unadorned walls provide a sense of space and structure.

The female figure in Young Girl Reading was meant to represent the natural essence of femininity. For starters, the dark wall in the background helps frame and emphasize the subject’s female form. Fragonard pulls the figures hair up in a ribbon and to expose more of her neck, and also places a collar around the bottom of her neck, which both help elongate the female form. Fragonard makes the female subjects face have a rosy-tint to it, which adds a daintier and more delicate feel to the painting.

When looking closely at the book the female subject is reading in Young Girl Reading, one will notice that there is no legible writing. This lack of writing adds a sense of mystery to the painting and begs the question of, “What is she reading and why?”, and could mean she is reading for pleasure, and not for academic purposes.

In Young Girl Reading, color helps convey emotion and mood. Fragonard used a typical Rococo color scheme, which consisted of soft, delicate colors and hues of gold. The pillows violet tint, the darker-toned walls and armrest, and the female subject’s rosy-toned skin and bright-yellow dress help create the illusion of warmth and joy, and a sense of sensuality. Fragonard’s decision to place the brightest color in the center was a smart one because it helps pull the entire composition together, and also attracts the viewers eye immediately to the female form. The formal element of form, especially in this piece of work, help the viewers eye track the painting. The relationship between the dark background (the wall) and light foreground (the female), or the heavy contrast, help the viewer home in on the curves and contours of the female form. Texture is created through Fragonard’s loose, but energetic and gestural brushstrokes. Texture helps accentuate the frills in the female subject’s dress, which brings us back to the clear focus Fragonard wanted to put on the female form. Texture also helps create depth and differ between the different layers of the painting. For example, the walls, the dress, and armrest all have different textures created through different styles of brushstrokes.[6]

The work is more a genre painting of an everyday scene than a portrait, and the name of the sitter is not known. X-ray photography has revealed that the canvas originally featured a different head looking towards the viewer, which Fragonard painted over.[7][8][9] It is one in a series of quickly executed paintings by Fragonard featuring young girls, known as figures de fantaisie.[10]

The painting was not a completed academic work, and probably passed through the hands of several collectors and dealers in France. It was owned by surgeon Théodore Tuffier, and came to the US before 1930, when it was in the collection of Alfred W. Erickson in New York, founder of the advertising agency McCann Erickson. It was inherited by his wife Anna Edith McCann Erickson in 1936, and following her death in 1961 it was bought by the National Gallery of Art.


  1. ^ Bergman-Carton, Janis (1995). The Woman of Ideas in French Art, 1830-1848. Yale University Press. pp. xi. ISBN 0-300-05380-0.
  2. ^ "Jeroboam Sacrificing to the Golden Calf, 1752". PBS LearningMedia. Retrieved 2017-12-13.
  3. ^ Stein, Author: Perrin. "Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806) | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art". The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Retrieved 2017-12-13.
  4. ^ ten-Doesschate., Chu, Petra (2012). Nineteenth-century European art (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 9780205707997. OCLC 624045291.
  5. ^ ten-Doesschate., Chu, Petra (2012). Nineteenth-century European art (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 9780205707997. OCLC 624045291.
  6. ^ "Young Girl Reading". www.nga.gov. Retrieved 2017-12-13.
  7. ^ Bailey, Colin B. (2003). The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting. Yale University Press. pp. 286–287. ISBN 0-300-09946-0.
  8. ^ Taft, W. Stanley (2000). The Science of Paintings. Springer Press. pp. 79–80. ISBN 0-387-98722-3.
  9. ^ "Submod 3: Obj 3: A Young Girl Reading". asu.edu.
  10. ^ Southgate, M. Therese (2001). The Art of Jama II: Covers and Essays from the Journal of the American Medical Association. AMA Bookstore. p. 70. ISBN 1-57947-159-5.

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