The Warrior

The Warrior is one of a number of “fantasy” portraits painted by Fragonard around 1770. This figure may be an arrogant warrior from some bygone age or he may be one of the artist’s contemporaries in disguise. The features of his face are individualized, but his costume is invented, described in the artist’s time as “Spanish in manner.” Fragonard seems to have been more interested in demonstrating his brilliant brushwork than in portraying a recognizable individual.

In the late 1760s, Jean-Honoré Fragonard produced a series of fourteen fantasy portraits, one of which is The Warrior, identified by the large sword. All were painted rapidly with a spirited technique. In fact, it is recorded on the backs of two of them that each was completed in one hour. The slight foreshortening suggests that they may have been intended to hang over doors. Although some of the portraits have been tentatively identified, The Warrior has not. His intense gaze, the dramatic pose with his head turned sharply, and the hand in a fist have suggested to some that he was an actor.

The most impressive aspect of this painting is the dazzling brilliance of Fragonard’s technique. Rich paint has been applied with speed and control: a dash of white here, a slash of yellow there—for example, the square patches that highlight the tip of the nose and the joints of the fingers. In the face, strong colors are placed side by side without transition. Small blue-gray dashes emphasize the forehead, the eye, and the mouth, just as red accentuates the nose, the cheek, and the chin.

Placed behind a parapet, the figure remains remote. His forceful physical presence is enhanced by the dramatic appearance of the elaborate seventeenth-century costume, with its large neck ruff, slashed sleeve, and black-and-red mantle rippling in what has been called a “heroic wind.”

—John H. Brooks, excerpted from The Clark: Selections from the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute, Steven Kern et al. (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1996), p. 38.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard

French, 1732–1806

The Warrior

c. 1770

Oil on canvas

32 1/16 x 25 3/8 in. (81.5 x 64.5 cm) Frame: 43 5/8 x 37 x 4 1/8 in. (110.8 x 94 x 10.5 cm)

Acquired by the Clark, 1964