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Cupid Among Roses, or Love the Sentinel

Date: ca. 1775
Dimensions:
21 1/2 x 17 3/4 in. (54.6 x 45.1 cm.)
Medium: oil on canvas
Credit Line: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Adele S. Browning Memorial Collection, gift of Mildred Browning Green and Honorable Lucius Peyton Green
Object Number: 78.20.4
Label Text:After 1768, Fragonard turned his back on the Salon and devoted his energies to less prestigious, more commercial endeavors. The critics that year wrote of him cynically, saying that, "instead of working for glory and for posterity, he is content to shine in boudoirs and dressing-rooms." L'Amour en Sentinelle is typical of the eighteenth-century taste for sentiment and sensuality in interiors, and Fragonard gave it a prominent position in his most famous interior decoration scheme, the suite of fourteen decorative paintings and rectangular overdoors titled The Progress of Love, now in the Frick Collection (fig. 00). The ensemble was commissioned by Madame Du Barry in 1771, but she rejected it before it was completed. In 1790 or 1791, L'Amour en Sentinelle was added along with three other rectangular overdoors showing Cupid in his various moods. The set was then sold to Monsieur Malvilan of Grasse. But Fragonard had already devised L'Amour en Sentinelle and its pendant, La Folie (Love the Jester), by the late 1770s as oval canvases; Jean-François Janinet (1752-1814) engraved them in 1777.
Over the next two decades, Fragonard would paint at least twelve oval versions of this popular composition, making it very difficult to trace the provenance of any one version. As Cuzin notes, "the early provenance [of any versions of the subject] could be, either entirely or partially, the same as that for the other versions of the same subject." The present painting is thought to be an early example, but its provenance cannot be verified.
In the eighteenth century, the painting was also known as L'Amour dans un buisson de roses (Cupid among roses). Roses and doves are symbols of love and thus of Venus, the goddess of love and mother of Cupid. Cupid's silencing gesture may derive from Falconet's much-copied marble L'Amour meneçant (Love threatening) made in 1757 for Madame de Pompadour, which appears in several of Fragonard's early paintings (see cat. 115). The viewer is left to decide whether he is urging discretion in matters of the heart or playfully pleading for silence as he pursues his quarry.