© President and Fellows of Harvard College
Gallery Text

The First Steps and The Beloved Child date from a period of close collaboration between Fragonard and Marguerite Gérard, his pupil and sister-in-law. The tightness of the foliage and the figures, as well as the compositional structure, suggests Fragonard’s academic training, which is further evident in his drawing for The First Steps, also in the Harvard Art Museums’ collections. However, the sumptuous rendering of the fabrics and the refined brushwork of the mothers’ faces reveal the hand of his pupil, who emerged as a master in her own right by 1790. Both paintings celebrate the joys of maternity, a theme explored in the writings of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. During the French Revolution, motherhood was linked to the ideals of social regeneration, and in 1792 a reproductive print of The First Steps was dedicated to “good Mothers.”

Identification and Creation
Object Number
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, French (Grasse 1732 - 1806 Paris)
Marguerite Gérard, French (1761 - 1837)
The First Steps
Work Type
c. 1780-1785
Level 2, Room 2220, European and American Art, 17th–19th century, Rococo and Neoclassicism in the Eighteenth Century
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Physical Descriptions
Oil on canvas
44.5 x 55.3 cm (17 1/2 x 21 3/4 in.)
frame: 64.5 x 74.5 cm (25 3/8 x 29 5/16 in.)
O…sale [through Hotel de Commissaires Priseurs, Paris, December 16-17, 1839, lot 89, with pendant, The Beloved Child]. Roger Charles Gaultier De Rigny, [sale, through Hotel de Commissaires Priseurs, Paris, June 2, 1857, lot 40]; to Morens. Pillot sale [through Hotel des Ventes Mobilières, Paris, December 6-8, 1859, lot 43, listed as “Figures by Mlle. Gérard, landscape by Fragonard"]. E. Falcke, sold; to Baron Mayer Amschel de Rothschild, England, 1868, by descent; to Hannah de Rothschild, 1874, by descent; to the Lord Rosebery Collection. [Wildenstein & Co., New York], sold; to Charles E. Dunlap, St. Louis, 1952, gift; to Fogg Art Museum, 1961.
Acquisition and Rights
Credit Line
Harvard Art Museums/Fogg Museum, Gift of Charles E. Dunlap
Accession Year
Object Number
European and American Art
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Publication History

Catalogue d'une belle collection de tableaux de ecoles Italienne, Flamande et Française...proevant du cabinet de M. O***, auct. cat., Imprimerie de Guiraudet et Jouaust (Paris, December 16-18, 1839), p. 15-16, lot no. 89 (with pendant)

Catalogue de tableaux anciens et modernes des écoles italienne, espagnole, flamande et française faisant partie de la belle collection de M. de Rigny, ancien receveur général du département du Calvados, auct. cat., Maulde et Renou, Imprimeurs de la Compagnie des Commissaires-Priseurs (Paris, June 2, 1857), p. 9, lot 40

Catalogue d'une collection de tableaux de l'école française...après cessation de commerce de M. Pillot...[marchand de curiosités], auct. cat. (Paris, December 6-8, 1858), p. 9, lot no. 43

Mentmore, R. & R. Clark (Edinburgh, 1884), p. 168, cat. no. 93, repr. [as "The First Walk"]

Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, exh. cat., Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, CT, 1967)

Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings from the Fogg Art Museum, exh. cat., Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY, 1967), cat. 30

James N. Carpenter, Color in Art: A Tribute to Arthur Pope, exh. cat., Fogg Art Museum (Cambridge, MA, 1974), p. 74, cat. 34, ill.

Pierre Rosenberg, Fragonard, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art / Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (Paris, 1987-1988), cat. no. 303, pp. 573-75, repr.

Edgar Peters Bowron, European Paintings Before 1900 in the Fogg Art Museum: A Summary Catalogue including Paintings in the Busch-Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1990)

"Exhibitions", Harvard University Art Museums Bulletin (Cambridge, MA, Winter 1993 - Winter 1994), vol. I, no. 2, repr. p. 34

Eunice Williams, "Gens, Honorez Fragonard!" Works from the Collections of Harvard University and Harvard Friends, brochure, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 1993), checklist no. 22, discussed and repr. in unpaginated essay

Richard Rand, Intimate Encounters: Love and Domesticity in Eighteenth-century France, exh. cat., Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ, 1997), no. 41, pp. 182-184, repr. in color

Pierre Rosenberg, From Drawing to Painting: Poussin, Watteau, Fragonard, David & Ingres, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ, 2000), p. 170, fig. 216, repr.

Didier Aaron: 25 Years in New York, auct. cat., Didier Aaron (New York, NY, 2002), Première partie, cat. no. 20, fig. a repr. in b/w

Colin B. Bailey and Philip Conisbee, The Age of Watteau, Chardin, and Fragonard: Masterpieces of French Genre Painting , exh. cat., Yale University Press/National Gallery of Canada (New Haven and Ottawa, 2003), no. 87, pp. 298-299, repr. in color

"Harvard University Art Museums", Boston Annual Guide for the Arts (2005-2006), pp. 122-129, repr. p. 122

Alvin L. Clark, Jr., "To Delight the Eye": French Drawings and Paintings from the Collection of Charles E. Dunlap, brochure, Harvard University Art Museums (Cambridge, MA, 2005), repr. in color p. 4 as fig. 3; checklist no. 5, p. 11

Marie-Anne Dupuy-Vachey, Fragonard, Editions Terrail (Paris, 2006), repr. in color pp. 226-227

Robert Neuman, Baroque and Rococo Art and Architecture, Pearson Publishing (Boston, 2013), repr. in color p. 351 as fig. 12. 20; pp. 351-352

Eunice Williams, "Jean-Honoré Fragonard: Two Drawings from the 1780s in the Fogg", Master Drawings (Winter 2015), LIII, no. 4, pp. 503-506, p. 503, repr. p. 504 as fig. 2

Sebastian Smee, "Frame by Frame: Motherly Love in 'The First Steps'", The Boston Globe (February 9, 2016), p. G3, repr.

Perrin Stein, Fragonard: Drawing Triumphant: Works from New York Collections, exh. cat., Metropolitan Museum of Art / Yale University Press (New York, 2016), p. 28, repr. p. 33 as fig. 28

Yuriko Jackall and Philippe Bordes, America Collects Eighteenth-Century French Painting, exh. cat., National Gallery of Art/Lund Humphries Publishers (Washington, DC, 2017), repr. p. 271

Exhibition History

Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings from the Fogg Art Museum, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, 05/08/1967 - 06/11/1967

Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture from the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 10/12/1967 - 12/03/1967

Color in Art: A Tribute to Arthur Pope, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 04/25/1974 - 06/16/1974

"Gens, Honorez Fragonard!", Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 05/15/1993 - 07/11/1993

Intimate encounters : love and domesticity in eighteenth-century France, Hood Museum of Art, Hanover, 10/04/1997 - 01/04/1998; Toledo Museum of Art, Toledo, 02/15/1998 - 05/10/1998; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Houston, 05/31/1998 - 08/23/1998

"To Delight the Eye": French Drawings and Paintings from the Collection of Charles E. Dunlap, Harvard University Art Museums, Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, 12/17/2005 - 03/12/2006

Re-View: S424-426 Western Art from 1560 to 1900, Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 08/16/2008 - 06/18/2011

HAA 10 Survey Course (S421): The Western Tradition: Art Since the Renaissance (Fall 10 Rotation 2), Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, Cambridge, 10/15/2010 - 11/06/2010

HAA 10 Survey Course (S421): The Western Tradition: Art Since the Renaissance (Fall 11 Rotation 2), Harvard Art Museums/Arthur M. Sackler Museum, 10/07/2011 - 11/05/2011

32Q: 2220 18th-19th Century, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, 11/01/2014

Subjects and Contexts

Collection Highlights

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Related Works

This record has been reviewed by the curatorial staff but may be incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. For more information please contact the Division of European and American Art at am_europeanamerican@harvard.edu