What’s the story behind masterpiece The Bolt (The Lock) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard?
- Velvet lady parts
- Push and pull of love
- Rococo’s exclamation point
Passion and an enticing bed work as major characters in The Bolt. In this randy masterpiece Jean-Honoré Fragonard points out poignant truths about love. It’s not only about words and feelings. Actions reveal love best. We know how people feel and what they want thanks to what they do. That’s the foundation of this painting’s appeal. Viewers only need glance at these two lovers to know the story here.
But thanks to the title, we look longer. When I first learned the title, The Bolt, I thought it referred to a lightning bolt of love. That’s because Fragonard shows us a passionate moment here. Lust envelopes this couple into their own world. In fact, they’re so taken with each other that the man reaches to lock the door without looking away from his lover. This is where the painting gets its name. He bolts the door.
Locking the door seals this couple into their love nest. Fragonard frames the pair into a tight composition where a lush, romantic, bed awaits. A red velvet curtain curves above them like an inviting open door. There’s sensual symbolism in this scarlet sweep of fabric. It opens to welcome the viewer’s eye into a cavernous chamber. This mirrors the woman in The Bolt. She surrenders to her lover with her skirts spread apart and eyes closed – as if to say take me. Those engorged drapes echo this with luxurious folds of soft, mauve, fabric.
Rococo art gained popularity in the early 17oos. It was a luxuriant and ornamental reaction to the Baroque art style of Louis XIV. Baroque art sits on the opposite end off the spectrum; dark and ponderous. Meanwhile Rococo art floats on pastel clouds with sweet lightness and delicacy. It’s the macaron of art history. If that canvas looks lacy, angelic, and/or frothy… you may be looking at Rococo. For an example of late Rococo, right before it shifted into Neoclassicism, check out the work of Jean-Honoré Fragonard. He was its last master.
An art genre that isn’t stuck in a single time frame, Romantic art makes you feel things. It’s not about subject matter, though. So, even without feelings of love, it’s romantic. Painters have roused emotions in viewers for centuries. Romantic art transcends time. It focuses on feelings no matter if in a landscape, figure, or abstract. When it resonates with emotion, it’s Romantic art. Of course sometimes we get both, a Romantic artwork that speaks of love. Jean-Honoré Fragonard gives us a perfect example with, The Bolt.
Rococo art has a saccharine reputation. But it served as a much needed lift after the heavy handed opulence and grandeur of Louis XIV’s time. Where Baroque art was weighty, Rococo felt light like cotton candy. In fact, it’s also known for sweetness. With its angels and romantic themes, this art movement still works for Valentines. That may not sound like fodder for masterpieces. But paintings like The Bolt prove this untrue. It’s far too profound for only a holiday card. Though, it would make a perfect valentine.
This painting breathes with the push and pull of love. Even as the lover locks them into the room together, open symbols surround them. He closes them off from the outside world so they can be completely open with each other. That’s why Fragonard holds those blood red drapes open for us. He also shows the woman’s surrender with her spread skirts. She’s thrown her head back, ready and vulnerable.
We see her lover’s openness in his undressed state. Tight breeches show us flexed, bare calves. Rolled-up shirtsleeves reveal his passionate reach toward The Bolt as well as his taut grasp on her. This is yet another example of the push and pull of romance. He does both: pulling her close and pushing out the rest of the world.
The Bolt (The Lock) – FAQs
Why was Jean-Honoré Fragonard important?
Fragonard artwork embodies the French Enlightenment of the late 1700s. His paintings are frothier than your foamiest cappuccino. They resonate freedom and exuberance. Still, his technique and composition tell us precise and clear stories. French painter Jean-Honoré Fragonard epitomized the fresh, candied pastels of Rococo. His paintings work as an exclamation point on the end of this sweet art movement.
Where can I see The Bolt (The Lock) painting by Fragonard in person?
An architectural wonder, the Louvre Museum in Paris holds many French masterpieces. So, The Bolt sits in fine company. In fact, you’ll find many Fragonard paintings there. Rococo art isn’t for everyone. But it’s hard not to feel a connection in the beauty of Fragonard’s work. Next time you’re in Paris, check out this masterpiece in person. It’s an unforgettable and passionate confection.
What’s the story behind The Bolt (The Lock) painting?
Many look at The Bolt as the first piece in a trio of Fragonard artworks. These glorious works tell the story of two lovers. A passionate affair swells in The Bolt. Then it crashes to a tragic climax in The Armoire, where the couple are discovered. But the story isn’t over yet. The Contract seals the pair back together in reconciliation. Fragonard figured out how to tell a passionate love story without limits.
It’s so limitless that many art historians pluck The Bolt from this trio and set it aside a holier Fragonard work. The Adoration of the Shepherds shows us religious love. So, the carnality of The Bolt works as a thoughtful counterpart to this sacred love story.
Enjoyed this The Bolt (The Lock) analysis?
Check out these other essays on French painters.
Guillaume Faroult , Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Lock , vol. 37, Paris, Meeting of National Museums, coll. “Solo”,2007.
Check out Fragonard’s painting The Bolt at The Louvre Museum
Pierre Marie Gault de Saint-Germain and Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Jacquemart-André museum, The Three centuries of painting in France or Gallery of French painters, from François I to the reign of Napoleon, Paris, Belin son,1808.
Jean Pierre Cuzin and Dimitri Salmon, Fragonard: crossed views, Paris, Mengès,2007.
Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey and Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Jacquemart-André museum, Fragonard: the pleasures of a century, Paris, Snoeck,2007.
Edmond de Goncourt and Jules de Goncourt, Fragonard: Les Introuvables, Paris, Editions L’Harmattan ,2006.