Faustian Fantasy: The Fatal Hour (II)
(Alexandre-Evariste Fragonard)


The subject of this work is something of an enigma; while it clearly recalls the imagery of Goethe’s Faust, which had inspired Fragonard on other occasions [1], there is no scene in the play to which it absolutely conforms. It may have been inspired by a contemporary theatrical variation on Faust or it may have been a subject of the artist’s own invention. In the sale of Fragonard’s collection this composition was catalogued as: “L’Heure fatale, sujet fantastique. Le diable apparaît à un jeune seigneur à table avec une courtisane, et lui montre du doigt, sure le cadran, sa dernière heure qui va sonner. 56c de haut, 46 c de lang.” [2] The most notable difference between this version and the more highly finished version is in the treatment of the figure of the devil; in the more highly finished version he is clothed in sixteenth-century garb with only pointed ears to reveal his true character, while in this one he is a horned beast who appears in a cloud of smoke and flames. This painting shows both Fragonard’s talents as a draftsman (the legacy of his Davidian education) and as a colorist with a flair for theatrical lighting effects that recall the work of his father.


[1] An engraving exists after a lost work called Apparition de Marguerite.

[2] “The fatal hour, a fantastic subject. The devil appears to a young nobleman seated at a table with a courtesan and points to the clock which is about to ring his final hour.” Catalogue d’Une Collection de Tableaux modernes, peints par feu A. Fragonard, Paris, Dec. 6, 1850, no. 13.

22 x 18 inches (56 x 45.7 cm.)
Oil on canvas

Provenance: Paris, Private Collection; New York, Private Collection.


Literature: Catalogue d’Une Collection de Tableaux modernes, peints par feu A. Fragonard, Paris, Dec 6, 1850, no. 13.

Where is It?
Stair Sainty Matthiesen Inc., NY
Historical Period
Neoclassicism - 1780-1820 & Romanticism - 1810-1870
1996-Romance and Chivalry: History and Literature reflected in Early Nineteenth Century French Painting.
Hardback book. 300 pages, fully illustrated with 90 colour plates and 100 black and white illustrations. Introduction (40 pages) by Guy Stair Sainty, twelve essays, catalogue, appendix of salons 1801-24 and bibliography. £50 or $80 inc. p.& p.

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Price band
$50,000 - $100,000