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The Sacrifice of the Rose, c. 1785–88.
IMAGES OF LOVE in a variety of forms—erotic, conjugal, maternal, even mythological—had long been a central theme in Fragonard's art. His most famous painting, The Swing of 1767, is an exquisite example of the highly finished and slightly bawdy cabinet picture prized by wealthy collectors early in his career. Around 1780, Fragonard began a group of paintings and drawings in which he explored the theme of love rather differently. No longer drawing from the real world or from classical narratives, these "allegories of love" depict passion in more symbolic and original ways. Couples or single figures pledge devotion, bewail lost love, or mourn the passing of innocence in mysterious garden settings attended by putti, cupids, and decorated with antique statuary. A dark palette and restrained brushwork add to the moody and lyrical atmosphere. As one commentator remarked when these works were rediscovered in the 1860s, "who would have thought that the eighteenth century was capable of such poetry and passion in the person of its most frivolous painter, Fragonard."

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