Luscious Fragonard from St. Petersburg

The Stolen Kiss (late 1780s), Jean-Honoré Fragonard

She was leaning on him as if she would fall if he did not support her. Then I noticed his foot on the bottom folds of her carefully pleated white dress. He was persistent. He was a thief; the kiss was stolen, grabbed, plucked. Sahir Ludhianvi’s Abhi Na Jaao Chod Kar gently played in the back of my head.

Would she, if she was the one with the bold foot, be labelled too audacious? Or that hideous term: "fast"? What if it was Sadhana who grabbed Dev Sahab's belt and said: I want more?

I read that The Stolen Kiss by French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard echoes the romantic voluptuousness preferred by French aristocrats; evident in the silk folds of the dress, the ornate decoration of the room: its lush carpet and lavishly large door. Fragonard painted many such voyeuristic scenes, which the court enjoyed. It is a beautiful painting. The light on the woman, her breast ever so slightly exposed, the group of other women so skillfully placed in dimension, each symbol narrating the story of how this kiss was stolen.

The ghazal, too, similarly was born from court traditions. Offering the voyeuristic pleasure of the heady chase, as the hunter pursued the gazelle, and it was her dying cry that came forth in its lyrical splendour. Yet, it was not written in her words, but his. For the poet in those days, around the same time period as the painting, was always a man.

The Stolen Kiss is hosted in the collection of the Hermitage, in St. Petersburg. Currently, it is visiting the Hermitage in Amsterdam as part of their 10 year anniversary celebration in a special exhibit called Treasury, on until August 2, 2019.


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