Founded in 1766, the Fragonard Museum is one of the oldest museums in France. Honoré Fragonard was one of the first medical masters of France, and his extensive collection contains rooms devoted to anatomy and teratology, articulated animal skeletons, and to disease and pathology. The highlight of this extraordinary museum is by far, however, the écorchés, or “flayed figures” of Honoré Fragonard.
Fragonard was appointed by Louis XV to be a professor at the first veterinary school in Lyon, and it was there where he began working on his “flayed figures” or écorchés. These écorchés were carefully dissected animals which were posed and mounted.
While many of his contemporaries were creating artificial anatomy models from wax, ceramic and plaster, Fragonard spent years preparing hundreds of these écorchés through a very difficult and, to this day, secret process similar to that of plastination. Though most of the items were intended to be used as educational tools, some his work is purely artistic.
Fragonard worked in Lyon for six years before his flayed figures began frightening the townspeople. Fragonard was declared a madman and fired. This did not deter him, and he continued to make hundreds of his magnificent écorchés to sell privately. While Fragonard created over seven hundred écorchés in his life, the collection at the Fragonard Museum contains only twenty one écorchés: the last of the remaining haunting and whimsical flayed figures of Honoré Fragonard.
The Fragonard museum contains many interesting veterinary specimens, but the écorchés themselves are in a room through a set of double doors at the rear of the main gallery. Once inside, do not miss (it would be difficult) the écorché of the Horseman of the Apocalypse. Fragonard was inspired by painter Albrecht Dürer’s famous picture of a man riding his horse. From this he made tangible Dürer’s vision as a disturbing, skinless, three-dimensional entity.