The Island of Love
Described as ‘view of a picturesque garden’ at its first public sale in 1784, the painting was long believed to depict the park at Rambouillet, which belonged to the Duke of Penthièvre at that time, although it also displayed similarities with other contemporary gardens, including Chantilly in particular. It is now believed that Fragonard did not intend to portray any specific location and that the composition, which revived the theme of the noble party in a fictional garden, was a product of the artist’s imagination.
In an exuberant and theatrical setting permeated with a sense of the fantastic, the transfigured landscape appears as the true theme of this fascinating and mysterious work, relegating the elegant aristocrats at the party to a secondary role. The painting is probably a homage to Antoine Watteau, because of the detail of the gondola, present in a work by the artist, Le Printemps [Spring] (Royal Collection Trust, London), but also because it evokes Pilgrimage to Cythera (Musée du Louvre, Paris). The detail of the twisted tree on the left appears to have been borrowed from Chinese art while the stairway animated by small figures recalls a drawing by Gabriel de Saint-Aubin entitled A Garden Fete at Saint-Cloud (National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh). The painting, one of the artist’s masterpieces, has rightly been described as ‘disturbing and enchanting’.
Jean-Benjamin Delaborde Collection; Duclos-Dufresnoy Collection, Paris; Villeminot Collection, Paris; Guérin Collection; Marquis de Sayve Collection, Paris. Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian, Wildenstein & Co., New York, 15 May 1928.
H. 71 cm; W. 90 cm
Washington D. C. 1950
European Paintings from the Gulbenkian Collection, exhibition catalogue. Washington D. C.: National Gallery of Art, 1950, pp. 32–3, cat. 11.
New York 1988
Pierre Rosenberg, Fragonard, exhibition catalogue. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1988, pp. 355–8.
Luísa Sampaio, Painting in the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Lisbon/Milan: Calouste Gulbenkian Museum/Skira, 2009, pp. 92–3, cat. 36.
Calouste Gulbenkian Museum. Lisbon: Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, 2011, p. 150, cat. 126.