A fresh interpretation of the group of Fragonard's paintings known as the 'figures de fantaisie', Fragonard and the Fantasy Figure: Painting the Imagination reconnects the fantasy figures with neglected visual traditions in European art and firmly situates them within the cultural and aesthetic contexts of eighteenth-century France. Prior scholarship has focused on the paintings' connections with portraiture, whereas this study relocates them within a tradition of fantasy figures, where resemblance was ignored or downplayed. The book defines Fragonard as a painter of the imagination and foregrounds the imaginary at a time when Enlightenment rationalism and Classical aesthetics contrived to delimit the imagination. The book unravels scholarly writing on these Fragonard paintings and examines the history of the fantasy figure from early modern Europe to eighteenth-century France. Emerging from this background is a view of Fragonard turning away from the academically sanctioned 'invention', towards more playful variants of the imaginary: fantasy and caprice. Melissa Percival demonstrates how fantasy figures engage both artists and viewers, allowing artists to unleash their imagination through displays of virtuosity and viewers to use their imagination to explore the paintings' unusual juxtapositions and humour.
Melissa Percival is Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter, and an expert in eighteenth-century French studies. She has published widely on theories of physiognomy and facial expression.
Contents: Introduction; Fact and fantasy: demystifying Fragonard's fantasy figures; The fantasy figure in European painting; Fragonard, 'pasticheur inspire'; Departures from resemblance; Fictional identities; Fantaisie and caprice; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.