Jean Honoré Fragonard, Rinaldo in the Enchanted Forest (detail), ca. 1763. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.
It is easy to dismiss Fragonard; history seems already to have dispatched him. In pre-Revolutionary France, he was held in high regard by courtiers with a taste for frivolity, but today his paintings of giddy maidens on swings surrounded by flowers look sweet but not smart. (He was the Jeff Koons of his time.) Yet Fragonard, in his own way, was a modern artist, even if largely by virtue of happenstance. At the time he was working, in the mid-eighteenth-century, collectors began to develop a newfound appreciation for drawing, and they saw in his work an ability to make a minor form something more than minor. This show at the Metropolitan of around one hundred of his works on paper, which covers the entire breadth of his career, makes the case that Fragonard shines through his drawings — and he does, even if he is not the brightest light.