During the summer of 2007, an innovative new lighting system was installed in the Fragonard Room to illuminate to its best advantage the bold palette Jean-Honoré Fragonard used in creating his masterful ensemble, The Progress of Love.
The project, which took four months to complete, upgraded the gallery’s sixty-year-old lighting system. Though state of the art when it was installed in 1947, the system had a narrow color spectrum and provided an uneven distribution of light.
Lighting designer Richard Renfro and his associate Eileen Pierce of Renfro Design Group of New York were charged with illuminating the wall-sized paintings without detracting from the ambience of the historic house. Their goal was to give the impression that the panels were lit only by natural light and the room’s chandelier. As some of the Collection’s most spectacular French sculpture and decorative arts are also housed in the Fragonard Room, a second goal of the project was to highlight these objects and bring them into balance with the paintings.
Several trials were conducted to test various lamps, determine the optimum beam spread, and ensure that illumination levels would be within museum standards. Ultimately, low-voltage halogen reflector lamps were chosen, as these produce a soft light for the paintings and provide better color rendering. Fiber-optic fixtures, which emit light from a remote source transmitted through glass fibers, were selected to provide a subtle accent for the three-dimensional objects. Both types of lights are housed in specially manufactured metal fixtures that replicate the ingenious manner in which the 1940s fixtures were unobtrusively recessed into the moldings on the ceiling, above each of the paintings. Care was taken to guarantee that the new system’s installation required no significant changes to the architecture of the room.
With the installation of new lighting, the Fragonard panels appear much as they did when the earliest four panels were first installed in 1772 at Louveciennes, the maison de plaisance built for Madame du Barry, Louis XV’s mistress. The paintings were completed during that year for the salle de jeu, a sunbathed room that the building’s architect, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, designed to be adjacent to the gardens. In this setting, the paintings would have been brilliantly illuminated by natural sunlight.