There is so much silliness in art that when coming across a masterpiece I often hesitate. Fragonard! Fragonard, described by Edmond and Jules Goncourt as a “cupid of erotic painting,” whose models “illuminate with their nudity the alcove”, is that hot wind that leafs through his own work — “the white, the blue, the red-brown of the early afternoon;” he is the painter whose poetic impertinence defines the century of rococo.
Every work of art presupposes a reader, an on-looker, almost a voyeur; to whom the description of an experience is more important than the experience; but a painting that begins as a commentary on a work of literature expects and mocks the reader’s competence; for the moral is simple, Perrette spills her milk: She has lost what she had because she was dreaming about what she could get: after selling her milk she could buy eggs; and after raising her chicken, she could acquire a pig; after selling that pig she would buy a cow…, and I could make this list pretty long, so long that in the end my reader might wonder, if the time wouldn’t be better spent making up something of her own? Let that idea of work disappear in the vapor of Fragonard’s magic lantern!
Competence is the creative agent that appears to dream for us, and in the end we hesitate to make a claim of having had any dream at all. Later you may recollect that female figure crying over her spilled milk: the lifted red skirt, her legs, her hips, her waist — image before idea; here and now depends on there and then. As for Honoré Fragonard, he appears to be illustrating the poem of Jean De Lafontaine, “Perrete and the Jar of Milk:” Chacun songe en veillant, il n’est rien de plus doux : Une flatteuse erreur emporte alors nos âmes ; Tout le bien du monde est à nous, Tous les honneurs, toutes les femmes. The above paintings can be seen, the first one at the Musée de Cognacq-Jay, and the other two at the Louvre.