His cousin painted nubile beauties in flirtatious poses. He skinned, preserved, and posed dead bodies…
Honore Fragonard was not normal, by anyone’s definition. He was a gifted anatomist, a skilled artist, and a prodigious creator of his unique masterpieces known as écorchés, or “flayed figures.” He produced hundreds of these macabre teaching tools, intended to help medical students understand the inner workings of the human body at a time when dissection was discouraged, and most students learned only from illustrations. His creations, however, were more than anatomical models: they were gruesome works of three dimensional art.
Cousin to the more famous Jean-Honore Fragonard, painter, Honore instead pursued a path that led him to be appointed professor of anatomy at Paris’ first veterinary school. It was there that he developed his passion for the art of the cadaver.
His technique for his écorchés was revolutionary - and now lost - using a combination of lacquer, resin, and wax to preserve specimens of animals and man. His most disturbing works are undoubtedly his vignettes of flayed cadavers posed to emulate motifs from art and myth. Of those that remain, the most famous is his Horseman of the Apocalypse, a nightmarish semi-fleshed skeleton perched astride a similarly flayed galloping horse, said to have been inspired by Albrect Durer’s “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”
Strangely enough, at some point his employers at the hospital found his work to be a bit beyond their comfort zone, and he was dismissed as a madman. But, luckily for us, they did not throw everything away, and the next time you are in Paris you can stop by the visit the last of his creations.