How can we compare the works of Renoir and Fragonard?
The works of Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Pierre-Auguste Renoir can be compared along the lines of content and style, though both worked during different periods. Fragonard was a painter whose work exemplified the decorative, aristocratic Rococo style of the mid-1700s. Renoir was an Impressionist painter who worked during the mid-1800s.
Both painters created works that featured people enjoying leisure activities, though there was a difference in who was depicted by each artist. Fragonard, like most Rococo painters, focused on members of the aristocracy in a fête galante, or scenes that showed members of French high society engaged in outdoor entertainments.
A characteristic example is Fragonard's 1766 work The Swing, in which a high-society lady is being pushed and pulled in a swing by an old bishop while her young lover watches and admires her. The scene takes place in lush surroundings. The young lady kicks off her pink slipper which flies toward a Classical statue of Cupid. The figure in the statue parallels her position by being seated. The cherubic love god also holds a finger to his lips, as though to hush her squeals of delight. The presence of the love god, as well as the reclining lover and the lush surrounds, all allude to sex. The "glowing pastel colors and soft light" also contribute to "the theme's sensuality" (Kleiner 770).
Renoir often depicted people in Parisian clubs and cafés. Good examples include Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette and Luncheon of the Boating Party. Now, it is working-class people gathered in festive atmospheres. Like Fragonard, Renoir works with pastels, but prefers dappled light to Fragonard's soft mists. Figures are also less clearly defined, and idealized surroundings are abandoned in favor of depictions of actual places. Finally, figures in the paintings are positioned more naturally and are featured doing real things. For example, in Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette, a man on the right side of the canvas picks his teeth. On the left, a man who appears to be bored stiffly dances with a young woman. Such figures sharply contrast with the reclining figure in The Swing, who implausibly fixes his lover with a wondrous gaze, and is lying in a very awkward position in an uncomfortable-looking bush.
In sum, both artists are similar in that they focused on leisure scenes. However, Fragonard, like most Rococo painters, only depicted members of the aristocracy, while Renoir painted members of the working class. The depiction of leisure was very important during both periods. In Fragonard's time, leisure time was evidence of one's wealth. In Renoir's, industrialization and set work schedules allowed people both the time and money to drink in bars and dance in nightclubs.
In terms of style, both depicted aspects of nature, particularly the presence of vegetation. While Fragonard presented lush, idealized natural scenes, Renoir provided more realistic impressions. Both, too, were concerned with depictions of light, and with the ways in which color could be used to demonstrate the vivacity and sensuality of figures.
Reference: Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner's Art Through the Ages: A Global History, Fifteenth Edition. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2016. Print.