Seeking Freud in Fragonard

Fragonard Le Verrou (The Bolt)
Jean-Honoré Fragonard - The Bolt (Le Verrou)
Oil on canvas 73 x 93 cm, ca. 1778.
Musée du Louvre, Paris.

Although he painted in several styles including neoclassicism, Jean-Honoré Fragonard is particularly famous as a rococo painter, because he painted several remarkable ribald, suggestive paintings, according to what was in the mood among her aristocratic patrons at the end of the 18th century, before the French Revolution occurred.

The Bolt (Le verrou), one of the most famous canvases by Fragonard, is a beautiful piece of art that is worth a analytical explanation... in every meaning of the word.

The painting is split by a diagonal, from the upper right to bottom left. On the well-lit right side, a man embraces a woman, while he pushes to the bolt of the door with the fingertips of his right hand. The woman seems half-fainting and resisting him mildly. Yet we all know that what must happen will happen. Hmm... 'will happen?' Why such untidiness on the darker left side then? A rumpled bed, scattered pillows, a hanging down canopy... how can there be so much disorder in a room where nothing has yet happened?

A specialist of paintings by Fragonard once wrote "On the right side, there is a couple; on the left side, there is nothing". Such a nothing is about half the painting though. Daniel Arasse, a French Art historian, rightly wrote in a fantastic book entitled Histoires de Peintures (Tales of Paintings) that much of the meaning of this canvas lies precisely in this nothing.

The Bolt — Detail

At first sight, there does not appear to be any real topic in the left part of the painting indeed, but drapes and folds. With a closer look though, you will see that the pillows are strangely put up as tips. In the canopy, a red material comes slightly unfastened, a slit sinking into the darkness. And the bed's corner, in the foreground, is covered by a sheet whose material is the same as the woman's dress. Look better: this corner is a knee. The knee of a widely open leg, a pair of breasts, a female sex above them, all allude to what is just going to happen. It refers to the man's fantasy and desire. The nothing on the left half of the painting is actually the thing.

Or... perhaps I am totally wrong? What do you think? Perhaps there is nothing to see there, but a rumpled bed? This is the whole ambiguity of art: you see (you can see, you want to see...) or you don't. Nobody can tell who is 'right' and who is 'wrong' if we disagree, but it does not matter anyway: when you look at a piece of art, it is not the meaning you see in it — or not — that is important, but how much the work appealed to you and gave rise to emotion.

3 comment(s):

    It's so intriguing entry~! Having read your introduction on this painting..

    I like what Fragonard wrote about this painting, "On the right side, there is a couple; on the left side, there is nothing". As it occurred to me that the light right part of The Bolt could be interpreted as the romance of the couple (object) and the dark left part as their hidden sexual desire (image), which we can see the object clearly but not their imaginary desire.

    Once you have mentioned Freud and the man's fantasy and desire, I'd like to add what Freud wrote in his writing, ‘Three Contributions to the Theory of Sex’;

    “The fact of sexual need in man and animal is expressed in biology by the assumption of a 'sexual instinct'. This instinct is made analogous to the instinct of taking nourishment, and to hunger. The sexual expression corresponding to hunger not being found colloquially, science uses the expression, ‘libido’. ”

    “All the outer and inner determinations which impede or hold at a distance the attainment of the normal sexual aim, such as impotence, COSTLINESS OF THE ATTAINMENT OF THE SEXUAL OBJECT, and DANGERS OF THE SEXUAL ACT, will conceivably strengthen the inclination to linger at the preparatory acts, ... ”

    , which at least we agree on that this couple in ‘The Bolt’ may not be in the sexually moral relation..? :) *bisous*


    L'Air — Beside the notion of 'moral' or 'immoral' sexuality, that would be too big a topic to be discussed in here IMO, I mentioned Freud because, like you said, the left part of the painting might well be an illustration of the 'it' Freud described.

    I went to an exhibition in Paris, the other day, called Looking for owners. It is part of the French policy for provenance research, restitution and custody of art stolen in France by the Nazis during WWII. Among the painting displayed, there was Shepherds in a Landscape, by Fragonard. I hope it does not mean I am a pervert if I cannot help seeing something else than sheeps in this romantic painting, on the ground beside the two young people.


    I insist you should write about the painting, Shepherds in a Landscape..? ..and what should I see in it..??? *rolling my eyes* :)


Post a Comment

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin


Timeless Music
The Magic Flute
by W. A. Mozart

Timeless Reading
Les Essais
by Michel de Montaigne