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The Letter, or The Spanish Conversation

Brown toned drawing and wash, servant delivers letter to woman in dress.
CC0 Public Domain Designation

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  • Brown toned drawing and wash, servant delivers letter to woman in dress.


c. 1778


Jean-Honoré Fragonard
French, 1732-1806

About this artwork

Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s highly personal, powerful style emerged after periods of study with both François Boucher and Jean-Siméon Chardin, and over five years at the Académie de France in Rome. Entitled The Letter, or The Spanish Conversation (because of the man’s elegant attire—with a doublet of full sleeves and a wide, stiff neck ruff—a costume that was “in the Spanish mode”), this lively sheet depicts with wit and teasing ambiguity an intimate incident in an upper-class drawing room. The artist’s rapid, virtuoso draftsmanship evokes forms with what seems like a minimum of effort, and his powerful handling of brush and wash reflects his ability to capture the effects of light. The interplay between the drawing’s broad, free underdrawing and its shimmering veils of wash lend this work its charm and vivacity. The woman in this drawing is said to be Fragonard’s sister-in-law, the artist Marguerite Gérard.


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Prints and Drawings


Jean Honoré Fragonard


The Letter, or The Spanish Conversation


France (Artist's nationality:)

Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Brush and brown ink and brush and brown wash, with graphite, on ivory laid paper


39.9 × 29 cm (15 3/4 × 11 7/16 in.)

Credit Line

Margaret Day Blake Collection

Reference Number


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