Fragonard, Alexandre-Evariste

Grasse 1780 - Paris 1850
Biography & List of works

Faust in his Study

Faust in his Study

Medium: Oil On Canvas

Size: 47 x 38 cm


France, Private Collection, 1989; New York, Private Collection

In Fragonard’s Faust in his Study as in the two paintings entitled Faustian Fantasy: The Fatal Hour, which seem to have been inspired by Faust, the artist was characteristically attracted to the supernatural aspects of the story. Faust in his Study takes place in the very beginning of the play when Faust is reading Nostradamus. It precedes the first meeting between Faust and Mephistopheles, famously illustrated by Delacroix. Faust conjures up the Spirit of Earth who appears in a flame:

Spirit. Who calls on me?
Faust (turning away). O fearful form!
Spirit. At length
You have compelled me here. Your strength
Has wrestled long about my sphere,
And now —
Faust. I tremble: come not near.
Spirit. With bated breath you labored to behold me,
To hear my voice, to see me face to face.
You prayed with might, with depth that has controlled
And here am I! — What horror now can chase
The colour from your lips, my superman?
Where the soul’s cry? The courage that began
To shape a world, and bear and foster it?
The heart that glowed, with lofty ardour lit,
To claim ethereal spirits as your peers?
Are you that Faust whose challenge smote my ears,
Who beat his way to me, proclaimed his hour,
And trembles now in presence of my power,
Writhes from the breath of it, a frightened worm?
Faust. And shall I, thing of flame, flinch at the sequel?
My name is Faust, in everything your equal.

Fragonard’s talents both as a draftsman (the legacy of his Davidian education) and as a colorist with a flair for theatrical lighting effects are evident in this small but powerfully dramatic painting. Although this picture is not dated, comparison with other works suggests a date in the late 1820s.