is fragonards the swing in washington dc
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing, c. 1767, oil on canvas. The Wallace Collection, London; Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing, c. 1775/1780, oil on canvas. The National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
In the Wallace picture, a young man hides in the bushes at left, watching a beautiful woman swing through the air, while her husband pushes, almost hidden in shadow at right. A statue of cupid with one hand over his lips reminds the viewer that we are witnessing a secret affair. Did you notice the girl’s shoe suspended in midair?
Sets of landscapes often served for interior decoration in the eighteenth century. In the 1770s and 1780s Hubert Robert (French, 1733 – 1808) was among the most prolific such decorators, creating suites of landscapes and ruin paintings for the interiors of his patrons’ hôtels particuliers and maisons de plaisance.    
See Jean de Cayeux, Hubert Robert et les jardins (Paris, 1987); John D. Bandiera, “Form and Meaning in Hubert Robert’s Ruin Caprices: Four Paintings of Fictive Ruins for the Château at Méréville,” Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies 15, no. 1 (1989): 21 – 37; Paula Rea Radisich, “ ‘La chose publique’: Hubert Robert’s Decorations for the ‘petit salon’ at Méréville,” in The Consumption of Culture 1600 – 1800: Image, Object, Text, ed. Ann Bermingham and John Brewer (London and New York, 1995), 401 – 415. Fragonard is known to have painted many decorative pictures, often in pairs or series, but no ensemble survives intact in its original location.    
The Progress of Love is a rare instance in which the pictures and intended setting can be plausibly reconstructed. Part of Fragonard’s decoration for the Hôtel Matignon in Paris, four overdoors of the seasons, remains in situ, although the salon apparently was redecorated in the nineteenth century. At that time, one of the panels, Winter, was sold and is now in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; see Jean-Pierre Cuzin, Fragonard, Life and Work (New York, 1988; French ed. Paris, 1987), 269, nos. 50 – 53. First proposed in Pierre Rosenberg, “Les mystères d’une fête,” L’Objet d’art 1 (Nov. 1987): 62 – 67, and elaborated in Pierre Rosenberg, “Fragonard, La Fête à Saint-Cloud, Louis-Pierre Marchal de Sainscy, et la Banque de France,” in Place des Victoires: histoire, architecture, société, ed. Isabelle Dubois et al. (Paris, 2004), 246 – 257. Regarding the five garden paintings now divided between the National Gallery and the Banque de France, Paris, Rosenberg has proposed that they may originate from the collection of Marchal de Sainscy, whose 1789 sale catalogue describes a group of landscapes as follows:
Le Carpentier’s comment that such paintings evoked a “memory” of nature was astute, for Blindman’s Buff and The Swing are replete with reminders of the fabulous gardens that Fragonard first depicted when he was a student at the Académie de France in Rome from 1756 to 1761. Fragonard’s experience of Italy had sparked his interest in landscape drawing and painting, an inclination he developed on numerous drawing excursions throughout Rome and the Italian countryside. The most remarkable results of these efforts are the extraordinary red chalk drawings of the gardens of the Villa d’Este at Tivoli, where the artist stayed for several weeks in the summer of 1760 as the guest of the Abbé de Saint-Non [fig. 2]   [fig. 2] Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Cypresses at the Villa d’Este, Tivoli, 1760, red chalk, Musée des Beaux-Arts et d’Archéologie, Besançon, France . The towering cypresses and overgrown bowers, lively fountains, and stunning vistas that characterized the d’Este gardens reappear in Blindman’s Buff and The Swing, even if the works are in no way topographical. While it has proved impossible to find specific garden sources for the paintings, certain motifs — such as the sculpture — can be linked with known prototypes.    
For example, the imposing statue atop the cascade in Blindman’s Buff is similar to the one on the Fountain of Rome at the Villa d’Este (see David R. Coffin, The Villa d’Este at Tivoli [Princeton, 1960], fig. 25). Fragonard’s method in his garden paintings was not to record a site precisely but to re-create imaginatively a sense of the character of a place he and his patrons may have visited. Attempting to identify the garden scenes in these two paintings would be fruitless and alien to the artist’s method and purpose.    
One might also recall a nineteenth-century account by A. de Launay, Salons de Paris, April 10, 1859, that Fragonard “had himself decorated [his] studio in a theatrical manner; at the back hung a curtain on which his imagination had created vegetation of a richness unknown to our climate with, in the foreground, bushes, creepers, climbing plants, imitation rocks, and flowers, the whole arranged so as to produce the most surprising effects; in the corner stood a child’s swing . . . on which he used to pose his models” (see Georges Wildenstein, The Paintings of Fragonard: Complete Edition [New York, 1960], 24 n. 3).
Jean Honore Fragonard was born in France in 1732. He became a student of the artist Chardin who was known as a master of still life painting. Fragonard was heavily influenced by the Dutch school of painters and set to work on his own unique style. There are various versions of The Swing painted by Fragonard. The most famous of these is in the Wallace Collection in London. It depicts a young lady on a swing being watched by a would be admirer who lurks in the foliage in gleeful anticipation. There is however, another version of The Swing that I find more to my taste. it is located in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
A few months back in another post on this blog I made a few comments about Thomas Cole’s Voyage of Life paintings. Although I am no art critic, and would not even attempt to pass myself off as one, I still enjoy commenting on various works that happen to interest me. One of these works comes from the Rococo Period. It is called The Swing painted by the French artist Jean Honore Fragonard in 1765.
Hertford House, image from the Wallace Collection.
The Swing is Fragonard’s best known work, a masterpiece in the Rococo style. It shows not just the woman on the swing but also two men, seemingly unaware of each other. In the foreground is a man lying on the ground, looking upwards at the swing, and in the background is a smiling older man, who is pushing the swing. In front of the older man there is also a small barking dog. The other presences in the scene are two statues: a putto (a chubby male child, usually naked and sometimes winged) and another pair of putti in the background. As you can probably guess, this is a scene of an affair.
The subject, a girl on a swing pushed by a husband while a lover looked from the bushes and a shoe flew from the foot, was dictated to the painter by the Baron de Saint-Julien; Fragonard transforms the scene from a licentious allegory into a commentary on the transience of pleasure through the specifics of his composition. The swing, in the 18 th century, was generally read as a sexual metaphor, due to the rhythm of movement and the positioning of the body, with extended legs, at the moment when the swing’s arc reached its climax; the loss of a shoe often symbolized the loss of innocence. The Swing is composed to direct the eye in such a way that the narrative is revealed gradually, following the motion of the swing from husband to lover, and framed as if a scene in a play, encouraging viewers to take pleasure in their intrusion into a private moment, approaching it as if it is performed for them.
Jean-HonorГ© Fragonard was born into a family of artisans and merchants in Grasse; his father was a glove maker. The family moved to Paris in 1738, when Fragonard was six, but little else is known about the artist’s upbringing. He began to study art as a teenager after a failed apprenticeship to a notary.