fragonard the swing shoe

Fragonard the swing shoe
The Swing depicts a young man – concealed in the foliage – who is watching a young woman on a swing. (At the time, a swing was a conventional symbol for infidelity.) She is being pushed by an elderly man in the background who has no idea of the young man’s presence. At first glance, the picture appears to be a simple image of an innocent young woman at play, but then it becomes clear that the picture is deliberately risque and rather rascally. Because as the lady rides higher and higher on the swing, she allows her admirer to see up her dress – and even kicks her legs apart for his benefit. As she does so, she sends one of her shoes soaring towards a winged figure that could easily represent Cupid, the Roman god of desire and erotic love.
A highly important figure in 18th century French painting, who now ranks among the greatest of all Rococo artists, the exceptionally talented Fragonard trained under Francois Boucher – whose main patron was Louis XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour – and Jean Chardin, famous for his still life painting and genre works. Winner of the Prix de Rome run by the French Academy, he was influenced by the pastoral scenes of Nicolas Poussin and above all by the freer, more colourful painting of Giambattista Tiepolo, famous for his Wurzburg Residence frescoes (1750-53). During the mid-1760s, revitalizing the idiom pioneered by Jean-Antoine Watteau, Fragonard began to specialize in the playful, erotic compositions for which he is now most famous. His delicate 18th century colour palette, witty content and fast brushwork gave even his most voyeuristic canvases a wonderful atmosphere of gaiety and joyfulness.

Fragonard the swing shoe
Excerpt from Hugh Honour and John Fleming, The Visual Arts: A History, 6th edition, p. 628: The origin of Fragonard’s The Swing is by chance known. The writer Charles Collé recorded having met the painter Gabriel-François Doyen on 2 October 1767: ‘Would you believe it!’ A gentleman of the court had sent for him shortly after a religious painting of his had been exhibited in Paris and when Doyen presented himself he found him at his ‘pleasure house’ with his mistress. ‘He started by flattering me with courtesies’, Doyen related, ‘and finished by avowing that he was dying with a desire to have me make a picture, the idea of which he was going to outline. “I should like”, Madame (pointing to his mistress) on a swing that a bishop would set going. You will place me in such a way that I would be able to see the legs of the lovely girl, and better still, if you want enliven your picture a little more. ” I confess, M. Doyen said to me, that this proposition, which I wouldn’t have expected, considering the character of the picture that led to it, perplexed me and left me speechless for a moment. I collected myself, however, enough to say to him almost at once: “Ah Monsieur, it is necessary to add to the essential idea of your picture by making Madame’s shoes fly into the air and having some cupids catch them.” Doyen did not accept the commission, however, and passed it on to Fragonard. The identity of the patron is unknown, though he was at one time thought to have been the Baron de Saint-Julien, the Receiver General of the French Clergy, which would have explained the request to include a bishop pushing a the swing. This idea as well as that of having himself and his mistress portrayed was evidently dropped by the patron, whoever he may have been. The picture was depersonalized and, due to Fragonard’s extremely sensuous imagination, became a universal image of joyous, carefree sexuality.
Fragonard’s The Happy Accidents of the Swing, 1767

Fragonard the swing shoe

  • One copy, once owned by Edmond James de Rothschild, [7] portrays the woman in a blue dress. [8]
  • The other is a smaller version (56 × 46 cm), owned by Duke Jules de Polignac. [7] This painting became the property of the Grimaldi family in 1930 when Pierre de Polignac (1895-1964) married Princess Charlotte, Duchess of Valentinois (1898-1977). In 1966, the Grimaldi & Labeyrie Collection gave it to the city of Versailles, where it is currently exhibited at the Musée Lambinet, attributed to Fragonard’s workshop. [9]

There are two notable copies, neither by Fragonard.

Fragonard the swing shoe
Commissioned by the notorious French libertine Baron de St. Julien as a portrait of his mistress, The Swing was to be painted to the following specificity: “I should like you to paint Madame seated on a swing being pushed by a Bishop. “
School of Fontainebleau:
The infamous French palace, decorated in the late 1500s by a group of painters headed by Rosso Fiorentino, specialized in eroticizing the mythological or classical subjects that were requested for the aristocrats of the time, serving as a precursor for the fanciful tastes that the later nobles would request.

Fragonard the swing shoe
This large canvas, designed as the centerpiece for a group of five paintings on the theme of play, is among Fragonard’s most ambitious works, engaging with issues of class and eighteen-century theories of the spectacle and memory. The FГЄte at Saint-Cloud shows a public fair held in the grounds of a chateau; crowds in varied styles of dress mill around multiple street theatres, a man with a monkey and vendors selling toys. Near the painting’s center is a fountain, spouting water high above these entertainments, and the scene is framed by billowing clouds and trees that dwarf the gathering. The viewer is positioned outside the scene, looking upon the crowd from afar, but is also, by virtue of the painting’s size, encouraged to psychologically enter into the world that it represents, moving closer to focus on individual elements.
Menacing Cupid, a sculpture that carried its own complicated history and set of associations, adds a serious note to the composition, with the permanence of marble serving as a reminder that time can be cruel with regard to love; the sensual pleasure celebrated in the painting is, like the climax of a moving swing, momentary and unsustainable. The young woman on the swing appears as if a flower, her skirts like petals, echoing in color and texture those in the shrubbery below, suggesting that she, like a bloom, will fade after being plucked. Her beauty is made more valuable by its imminent loss; she is momentarily illuminated but will fall away from the light as her arc reverses. The garden, a space outside the artificial rules of society, was associated with freedom and the natural, heightening this thematic depth whilst allowing Fragonard to create drama through contrasts in light and shade.

References:

http://employees.oneonta.edu/farberas/arth/arth200/gender/fragonard_swing.html
http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Swing_(painting)
http://www.artble.com/artists/jean-honore_fragonard/paintings/the_swing
http://m.theartstory.org/artist/fragonard-jean-honore/artworks/
http://www.tatler.com/article/in-the-frame-jean-honore-fragonards-the-swing

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