The Fountain of Love

7:00 AM

Jean-Honore Fragonard, The Fountain of Love, 1785
Oh living soul, who with courtesy and compassion voyage through black air visiting us who stained the world with blood: if heaven’s King bore affection for such as we are, suffering in this wind, then we would pray to him to grant you peace for pitying us in this, our evil end. 
- Inferno, Dante, Canto V

Fragonard’s characters approach the basin with eagerness, a sense of anticipation. Being tempted by the cherubs to drink from the fountain of love, the same fountain from where cupid dips his arrows. One sip of its sweet magic would bind the couple with a desire for one another.

This painting relates to Dante’s Inferno Canto V, through its subject matter. Fragonard creates a dark, soft atmosphere created by the light source and fog, and a gust that tears across the painting, which makes the couple’s presence seem forbidden as they tiptoe along the stone base. This wind adds to the rush of the moment. Her dress being pulled from her as she leans forward, the two of them connected by the beating of their hearts, exhilarated by the enormity of their actions. They seem like the lovers in the second circle of hell spun for eternity in a whirlwind, forever unable to touch each other, even though they are inches apart.

The painting represents a dark period of Fragonard’s life in the later part of his career. In the lead-up to The French Revolution Fragonard began to lose his clientele, for whom he painted the stunning settings and frivolousness of the aristocracy. The Fountain of Love returns to the subject he became most familiar with and the foundation of the majority of his work - desire. While the painting captures the moment of intimacy, he accomplishes it with a simplicity and darkness, unlike the rich colors seen in The Swing. This acts as a farewell, a reflection of his old patrons and the works he made for them.

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