how is rococo playfulness and sexual innuendo portrayed in the swing by fragonard
A disclaimer. This episode of The Lonely Palette acknowledges the existence of exceedingly saucy 18th century sex. Little ears have been forewarned.
VOICE 2: It’s a painting of two figures on some kind of bed. They are completely enveloped in these flowing draperies or bedclothes. It’s very brown, everywhere except the middle where there seems to be a spotlight showing on the two figures who are locked in a passionate embrace.
6 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS. 4 ABSTRACT. 6 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION. 8 Summary of Thesis. 8 Scholarship on Jean-Honoré Fragonard in Relation to Rousseauian Concepts Organization of Chapters OVERVIEW OF ROCOCO LOVE AND ITS CRITICS Gallantry: The Endless Chase Libertinage: Pure Physical Pleasure Rousseau s and Diderot s Critiques ROUSSEAUIAN CONCEPTS OF LOVE Passionate Love and Tempered, Conjugal Love Ideal Love in Emile Diderot and Rousseauian Art ANALYSIS OF FRAGONARD S PAINTINGS Patronage and Social Class Rococo Styling of Rousseauian Subjects Rococo or Rousseauian Subject Matter CONCLUSION APPENDIX: LIST OF FIGURES LIST OF REFERENCES BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
9 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Summary of Thesis Love was the reigning preoccupation in rococo paintings during the early eighteenth century. 1 The subject of love in these artworks, which I am labeling as rococo love, supported the elite values of arranged marriages and extra-marital affairs. During this period, members of the nobility married for social, political, and economic reasons rather than for emotions. They found their love through extra-marital affairs, which was more about recreational pleasure than family duty, lineage and procreation. Rococo love consists of two intertwining categories, gallantry and libertinage. Gallant paintings show a playful game of eternal courtship that involved a highly coded system of interactions, such as in Jean-Honoré Fragonard s Blindman s Bluff (1755) (Figure A- 1). In this image, a blindfolded woman reaches out to touch her male companion who sneaks behind her and playfully touches her cheek with a strand of straw. The composition places the woman front and center in a garden setting typical of rococo gallant paintings. The pastel, painterly brushstrokes emphasizes the playful nature of the figures courtship. In contrast, libertine images focused on physical eroticism that had been calculated and planned with little thought for emotions such as in The Useless Resistance ( ) (Figure A-2). Rather than having limited physical contact as in Blindman s Bluff, The Useless Resistance is purely about the physical interaction of a woman who playfully attempts to prevent her male companion from moving further sexually. To enhance the eroticism in libertine scenes, painters often set them in an 1 In our society, love typically signifies a strong emotional bond with another person. In this thesis, I use the term love in a broader sense to refer to a connection, whether physical, emotional, playful, etc., (primarily) between opposite sexes. 8
Much like Boilly’s La Toilette intime ou la Rose effeuillée, Chaonnier makes a shocking statement with his etching because it depicts a relatively private daily ritual. Yes, that is correct a daily ritual. Enemas were “considered a necessity, [a] daily cosmetic treatment… Every day the ladies of the mansion submitted themselves to the enemas from the water, which contained various herbs and perfumes” (Duda). As this medical treatment was considered to be a cosmetic necessity this painting depicts how indulgent the aristocrats could be when involving physical appearance. Although this painting does not appear to be sensual, “an important erotic sub-genre of the period, [was] that of the woman awaiting an enema. In this sub-genre[,] the nude rests on a bed, and a maid or doctor waits to deliver an enema, the tell-tale clyster or syringe in their hand” (Pain). Enemas were a popular subject matter in art, yet this depiction of a beauty ritual can be viewed as complete frivolity and human fascination.
While the aristocrats enjoyed these indulgences, the poorer classes were not pleased with these displays of extravagances. As the Enlightenment’s philosophies flourished, it became more apparent that the aristocrats were engrossed in social self-absorption which was one of the reasons that the Enlightenment grew. With this in mind, the followers of the enlightenment were not pleased with the topics depicted in art and the moralities in question. Through the paintings of toilettes, lounging, bathing, cosmetics, and medicinal treatments, the 18th-century art boldly explores and glorifies what the wealthy did behind closed doors.
1. Light-hearted depiction of domestic life in the upper class home (e.g. Le Dejeuner, or The Breakfast, by Francois Boucher)
The royal mistress’ patronage of the arts had never been seen before. Her well-known patronage of Rococo art made her synonymous with that art style. Later at the French Revolution, she was seen as a mere icon of Rococo frivolity and a symbol of the degenerate culture, spending money that’s not hers, the taxpayers’ money on her ravenous shopping appetite for clothes, furniture, and art. However, it’s unfair to single out only Madame de Pompadour, since all the privileged elite, those portrayed in Rococo paintings, led lives mainly funded by the backbreaking taxes collected from downtrodden peasants. Such was the ugly reality you never see in the beautiful Rococo paintings – the tragic dark side behind the light-hearted leisurely outings.
Neoclassicism: Seen as a counterpoint to the frivolity and extravagance of the Rococo, it was a predominant artistic style in Europe and North America at the end of the eighteenth century and early part of the nineteenth century. What is distinctive about this particular classical revival was the emphasis on archaeological exactitude. The scientific studying of artifacts filled many publications.
Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa (1818–9) belongs to the period of Romanticism. Géricault received little formal training, preferring to copy paintings in the Louvre. This massive painting was shown at the 1819 Salon, under the title A Scene of Shipwreck. Though the name “Medusa” did not appear in the title, the public would have had no trouble making the connection between Géricault’s work and the recent disaster. To summarize: The Medusa was an ill-fated ship that left France in 1816, for Cape Verde, Africa. The ship ran aground and sank. Lifeboats could only save a portion of the crew. The approximately 150 people left behind constructed a raft left to cast adrift. For thirteen days, horrors ensued—fighting, starvation, dehydration, and cannibalism. When the raft was finally discovered only fifteen people remained alive. Survivors’ statements were quickly published, searing themselves upon the minds of the French people. Returning to Géricault’s painting, the horrors endured by the survivors are implied, not shown. Though Géricault conformed to the academic standard of idealizing the human figures, unlike a traditional history painting the emphasis is not an uplifting moral or heroic message, ideas traditionally associated with this genre. Instead, the painting focuses on the elemental struggle of humanity against nature. Géricault’s formal choices, especially color, gave precedence to the dramatic emotional, Romantic effect of the painting.