The son of the painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Evariste Fragonard studied with his father before entering the studio of Jacques-Louis David at an early age. A precocious student, he made his Salon debut in 1793 at the age of only thirteen, exhibiting a drawing of Timoleon Sacrificing his Brother. A few months later he won two second prize medals at the great concours held in the Year II of the Republic. He continued to show regularly at the Salon until 1842, exhibiting drawings, scenes from Napoleonic history and, from around 1820 onwards, troubadour paintings. Equally adept at large-scale history scenes and intimate cabinet pictures, Fragonard was in great demand throughout his later career. In 1810 he received a commission to paint a series of grisailles for the Palais Bourbon, and later won several further official commissions, including a series of historical subjects for the museum at Versailles. He also painted a Martyrdom of Saint James for the church of Saint-Jacques-du-Haut-Pas in Paris, as well as another canvas for the Cathedral in Strasbourg. Fragonard was also active as a sculptor and, like his father, produced designs for lithographs and book illustrations, notably Baron Taylor’s Voyages pittoresques, published in 1824. Between 1806 and 1839 he created decorative patterns for Sèvres porcelain. Several of his surviving drawings and sketches are in the Louvre, the Musée Fragonard in Grasse and the Manufacture de Sèvres.
This small painting depicts Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia, the Three Graces of classical mythology. Daughters of Zeus, the three Graces personified beauty, and served as attendants to Venus and other goddesses. The present sketch is a typical work of the first part of Evariste Fragonard’s career, when he worked predominantly in a Neoclassical vein. Many of his Neoclassical drawings of this type, produced during the Consulate and Empre, were exhibited at the Salons between 1793 and 1812, and were often reproduced as prints. Similar floating figures of the three Graces, albeit with wings, appear in a large and highly finished black chalk drawing of Psyche Before Venus of c.1797 in the Louvre.