About This Artwork

Jean-Honoré Fragonard
French, 1732–1806

Portrait of a Man in Spanish Costume, 1768/70

Oil on canvas
80.3 x 64.7 cm (31 5/8 x 25 1/2")

Gift of Mary and Leigh Block in honor of John Maxon, 1977.123

Jean-Honoré Fragonard is perhaps best known for his light-hearted, amorous subjects, which seem to embody the spirit of eighteenth-century France. This work, painted in lively brushstrokes, represents another important aspect of Fragonard’s genius—in a series of fantasy portraits, he used references to earlier artists to enliven his own characterizations of his patrons and artistic friends. Here the identity of the sitter is unknown; however, the half-length format, the rapid, virtuoso handling of the paint, and the use of seventeenth-century costume link this work to the fantasy portraits. In this instance, Fragonard took as his starting point a painting of an actor by the Italian Baroque artist Domenico Fetti, then in a leading Parisian collection; in other related portraits, the French painter was inspired by the bravura style of the Flemish artists Peter Paul Rubens and Anthony van Dyck. Two paintings from this series bear inscriptions stating that they were painted in one hour. Whether or not this is literally true, the direct, personal quality that results from Fragonard’s command of the medium makes this series particularly appealing to a modern sensibility.

Exhibition, Publication and Ownership Histories

Exhibition History

Minneapolis, Institute of Arts, French Eighteenth-Century Painters, 1954 (not in cat.).

Chicago, Art Institute, Great French Paintings: An Exhibition in Memory of Chauncey McCormick, 1955, no. 16, as An Actor in the Role of Don Quixote.

Kansas City, The Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum, The Century of Mozart, cat. no. 35; as An Actor in the Role of Don Quixote (cat. published as The Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum Bulletin 1, 1 [1956]).

Washington D.C., National Gallery of Art, 100 European Paintings and Drawings from the Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Leigh B. Block, 1967; traveled to Boston and Los Angeles, cat. no. 1, as Portrait of a Man as Don Quixote.

Chicago, Art Institute, Masterpieces from Private Collections in Chicago, 1969, not numbered, as Portrait of a Man as Don Quixote.

Chicago, Art Institute, European Portraits, 1600–1900, in The Art Institute of Chicago, 1978, cat. no. 9, as Portrait of a Man or Don Quixote.

Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, A Magic Mirror: The Portraits in France, 1700–1900, 1986–87, cat. no. 15, as Portrait of a Man (Don Quixote).

Paris, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Fragonard, 1987–88, cat. no. 128; traveled to New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures, Oct. 8-Dec. 3, 2017, Plate 17 (ill.).

Publication History

Baron Roger Portalis, Honoré Fragonard: Sa Vie et son oeuvre, vol. 2, Paris 1889, pp. 277, 286.

Georges Wildenstein, The Paintings of Fragonard: Complete Edition, London, 1960, pp. 14, 256, no. 247, pl. opp. p. 42.

Charles Sterling in Portrait of a Man (The Warrior), Jean Honoré Fragonard, exh. cat., Williamstown, Mass., Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, 1964, n. pag., fig. 17.

Daniel Wildenstein and Gabriele Mandel, L’opera completa di Honoré Fragonard, Classici dell’arte 62, Milan, 1972, p. 97, no. 264 (ill.).

“New Accession,” Apollo 106 (October 1977), p. 311, fig. 6.

The Art Institute of Chicago, 100 Masterpieces, Chicago, 1978, pp. 25, 77. no, 37.

Denys Sutton in Fragonard, exh. cat., Tokyo, The National Museum of Western Art, 1980, n. pag.

Jacques Vilain in French Painting: The Revolutionary Decades, 1760–1830, exh. cat., Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, 1980, p. 87, under no. 38.

Mary Sheriff Jones, “The Portraits de Fantasie [sic] of J.–H. Fragonard: A Study in Eighteenth-Century Art and Theory,” Ph.D. diss., University of Delaware, 1981 (Ann Arbor Michigan, University Microfilms, 1984), pp. 85–86, 198, no. 14, fig. 29.

Pierre Cabanne, Fragonard, Paris, 1987, pp. 63, 65.

Jean Pierre Cuzin, Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Vie et oeuvre, catalogue complet des peintures, Fribourg and Paris, 1987, pp. 123, 294, no. 184 (ill.), fig. 149; English ed., New York, 1988, pp. 125, 295, no. 184 (ill.), pl. 149.

Heinrich, Hahne, “Der Vielgeliebte,” Weltkunst 57 (1987), p. 3695.

Barabara Scott, “Letter from Paris: Fragonard at the Grand Palais,” Apollo 126 (1987), p. 443.

Mary D. Sheriff, “Invention, Resemblance, and Fragonard’s Portraits de Fantaisie,” Art Bulletin 69 (1987), p. 77 n. 1.

The Art Institute of Chicago, Master Paintings in The Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, 1988, p. 42 (ill.).

Dore Ashton, Fragonard in the Universe of Painting. Washington, D.C., and London, 1988, p. 201, fig. 55.

Philip Conisbee, “New York: Fragonard,” Burlington Magazine 130 (1988), p. 319.

Heinrich Hahne, “Fragonard,” Das Kunstwerk 41 (February 1988), p. 43.

Pierre Rosenberg, Tout l’Oeuvre peint de Fragonard, Paris, 1989, p. 93, no. 200 (ill.).

Les donateurs du Louvre, Paris, 1989, p. 224.

Mary D. Sheriff, Fragonard: Art and Eroticism, Chicago and London, 1990, p. 241.

Barbara Stafford, Artful Science: Enlightenment, Entertainment, and the Eclipse of Visual Education, Cambridge, Massachusetts and London, 1944, pp. 114–15 (ill.).

Susan Wise in Susan Wise and Malcolm Warner, French and British paintings from 1600 to 1800 in the Art Institute of Chicago: a Catalogue of the Collection, Chicago, 1996, pp. 57–61, ill.

Uwe Fleckner, “’Pourqui une belle esquisse nous plaît-elle plus qu’un beau tableau?’: Fragonard, Diderot et l’éloquence du pinceau dans quelques portraits du XVIIIe siècle” in L’Art et les norms sociales au XVIIIe siècle, Thomas Gaehtgens, ed., Paris, 2001, pp. 511, 531 n. 6.

R[ichard] R[and] in Philip Conisbee et al., The Collections of the National Gallery of Art, French Paintings of the Fifteenth through the Eighteenth Century, Washington, D.C., 2009, pp. 162, 165.

Melissa Percival, Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure: Painting the Imagination, Farnham, Surrey, and Burlington, Vermont, 2012, pp. 1, 20, 21-22, 25, 28, 34, 44, 46 n. 50, 80, 113-116, 120, 153, 166, 188, 224, pl. 13.

Carole Blumenfeld, Une facétie de Fragonard: Les révélations d’un dessin retrouvé, Montreuil, 2013, p. 11, fig. 5.

Carole Blumenfeld. "Une nouvelle figure de fantaisie de Fragonard." L'Objet d'art, no. 491 (June 2013), pp. 52, 54, 57, ill.

Yuriko Jackall, ed., Fragonard: The Fantasy Figures, exh. cat. (National Gallery of Art, Washington/ Lund Humpries, 2017), p. 38, Plate 17, 68-70, 133-137, 140-142.

Ownership History

Possibly Mauperin, Paris; sold A. Paillet, Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, December 4, 1780, no. 38, for 100 livres [“Un Portrait d’homme ajusté selon le costume espagnol. Ce morceau Etude & d’une touche savante est d’un grand effect. Hauteur 30 pouces, Largeur 24. T.” (A portrait of a man dressed in a Spanish costume. This work, sketched and of a sure touch, is of great effect. Height 30 pouces, width 24. Canvas.) The measurements given are equal to 81 x 64.8 cm; price recorded in an annotated sale catalogue at the Frick Art Reference Library, New York]. Sold Hôtel Drouot, Paris, April 20, 1885, no. 14, for Fr 2,900 [price according to an annotated sale catalogue at Galerie Heim, Paris]. Camille Groult (died 1908), Paris; his son Jean Groult (died 1951), Paris; purchased from the Groult collection by Wildenstein, New York, 1954 [telephone conversation of Susan Wise with Ay-Whang Hsia, May 4, 1982]; sold by Wildenstein to Leigh Block, Chicago, 1954 [telephone conversation cited above]; given to the Art Institute by Mary and Leigh Block, 1977.

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