CORÉSUS AND CALLIRHOÉ

(FRAGONARD)

EDMOND AND JULES DE GONCOURT

Poets were lacking in the last century. I do not say rhymers, versifiers and mechanical arrangers of words; I say poets. Poetry, taking the expression in the truth and height of its meaning; poetry, which is an elevation or an enchantment of the imagination, the contribution of an ideal of reverie or gaiety to human thought; poetry, which carries away and suspends above the world the soul of a period and the spirit of a people, was unknown to the France of the Eighteenth Century, and her two only poets were two painters: Watteau and Fragonard.

Corésus and Callirhoé. Fragonard.

Corésus and Callirhoé.
Fragonard.

Watteau, the man of the North, the child of Flanders, the great poet of Love! the master of sweet serenity and tender Paradises, whose work may be likened to the Elysian Field of Passion! Watteau, the melancholy enchanter who has made nature sigh so heavily in his autumn woods, full of regret around dreamful pleasure! Watteau, the Pensieroso of the Regency; Fragonard, the little poet of the Art of Loveof the time.

Have you noticed in L'Embarquement de Cythère all those naked little forms of saucy and knavish Loves half lost in the heights of the sky? Where are they going? They are going to play at Fragonard's and to put on his palette the hues of their butterfly wings.

Fragonard is the bold narrator, the gallant amoroso, the rogue with Gallic malice, nearly Italian in genius but French in spirit; the man of foreshortened mythology and roguish undress, of skies made rosy by the flesh of goddesses and alcoves lighted with female nudity.

Upon a table beside a bunch of roses let us allow the leaves of his work to be ruffled by the wind of a lovely day: from landscapes where robes of satin are escaping in coquettish flight, our glance skips to meadows guarded by Annettes of fifteen years, to granges where the somersaults of love upset the painter's easel, to pastures where the milk-maid of the milk-jug reveals her bare legs and weeps like a nymph over her broken urn, for her sheep, her flocks, and her vanished dream. Upon another page a maiden in love is writing a beloved name on the bark of a tree on a lovely summer evening. The breeze is always turning them over: now a shepherd and shepherdess are embracing before a sun-dial which little Cupids make into a pleasure-dial. It keeps on turning them; and now we have the beautiful dream of a pilgrim sleeping with his staff and gourd beside him, and to whom appears a host of young fays skimming a huge pot. Does it not seem that your eye is upon a vision of a fête by Boucher, shown by his pupil in Tasso's garden? Adorable magic lantern! where Clorinde follows Fiammette, where the gleams of an epic poem mingle with the smiles of the novellieri! Tales of the fay Urgèle, little comic jests, rays of gayety and sunshine which one might say were thrown upon the cloth upon which Béroalde de Verville made his cherry-gatherer walk. Tasso, Cervantes, Boccaccio, Ariosto (Ariosto as he has drawn him, inspired by Love and Folly), it recalls all his genii of happiness. It laughs with the liberties of La Fontaine. It goes from Properce to Grécourt, from Longus to Favart, from Gentil-Bernard to André Chénier. It has, so to speak, the heart of a lover and the hand of a charming rascal. In it the breath of a sigh passes into a kiss and it is young with immortal youth: it is the poem of Desire, a divine poem!

It is enough to have written it like Fragonard for him to remain what he will always be: the Cherubino of erotic painting....

He leaped into success and fame at one bound, with his picture of Callirhoé, that painting of universal approbation, which caused him to be received into the Académie by acclamation; that painting which aroused public enthusiasm at the Salon in the month of August, and which had the honour of a Royal command for its reproduction upon Gobelin tapestry.