The sitter, la Citoyenne D... in the present drawing is shown dressed in the flowing Neoclassical costume of white muslin that became popular in Paris in the late 1790's. The laced slippers abandoned on the ground are a further modish item of dress inspired by Greek models. Jacques Louis David also painted sitters in this costume, and the most famous example is the portrait of Mme Recamier also shown without jewellery, with a flowing white muslin gown, and bare feet. A variation of the same costume is seen in David's portrait of Mme de Verninac (Paris, Musée du Louvre) of 1799 where the sitter is shown again without jewels and with the same soft white muslin costume.
At the Salon of 1800 Alexandre Evariste Fragonard exhibited a portrait drawing, Le Portrait de La Cne D... (Explication des ouvrages de peinture et dessins, sculpture, architecture et gravure des artistes vivans,) Paris, An VII (1800) p.30, no. 150). It is believed that this large and important drawing is identical with that exhibited at the 1800 Salon. Its unusual size and its distinctive character make it the most likely candidate for this Salon entry along with the fact that the costume and presentation are so closely related to David's famous portrait of 1800 showing Mme Recamier (Paris, Musée du Louvre).
A group of drawings from Fragonard's early years has recently been brought together making it possible to characterise his highly individual style during these years. He exhibited a drawing of Eros Raising a Young Girl into the Air at the Salon of 1798 when he was only eighteen years of age, and this drawing which is identical in style with the Portrait of Cne D... recently appeared in Paris and is now in a private collection in New York (French Nineteenth Century Drawings, Watercolours, Paintings and Sculpture, Shepherd Gallery, New York, 1987, no. 10. The drawing is signed on the lower left, 'Fragonard fils' Another drawing in the Cabinet des Dessins of the Louvre, Psyche Showing Her Riches to her Sisters was done by Fragonard in 1797 (Pierre Rosenberg, Fragonard, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, p. 56, fig 5) and is identical in style with the present drawing.
When this drawing first appeared in the Gould sale in 1985, it was attributed to the portraitist and miniaturist, Isabey. However, signed drawings by Evariste Fragonard make clear that this superb portrait is by him and a masterpiece from his hand. In January 1988 Pierre Rosenberg, Curator of Paintings at the Louvre Museum saw the drawing and agreed that the attribution to A. E. Fragonard is correct. Fragonard's drawings of the 1790's are extremely original. He was very forward looking in his art and in many ways close to Pierre Paul Prud'hon and occasionally to Girodet-Trioson.
Florence J. Gould; her sale, Sotheby's New York, April 25th, 1985, lot number 108
Shepherd Gallery, New York, Spring 1986, number 4