The Fables of La Fontaine (1621-1695) were very popular in the 18th century. Like his fellow painters Oudry and Boucher, Fragonard chose to illustrate one of the best-known fables, Perrette et le pot au lait.
The painting depicts the moment just after the young girl, carrying her milk pail, has fallen, much to the delight of the two male onlookers:
'At that point Perrette, carried away, jumps, too. The milk falls: goodbye calf, cow, pig, brood of chicks.' With the milk spilt, everything she had hoped to buy with the profits vanishes, represented by the clouds escaping from the pail. The artist poetically recreates the scene using the deft strokes and vivid colours that won him great acclaim among connoisseurs.