jean-honoré fragonard the swing 1766

Jean-honoré fragonard the swing 1766
• An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768) by Joseph Wright of Derby.
National Gallery, London.
Other instances of symbolism are also worth noting. In the foreground (right), a tiny lapdog – a symbol of faithfulness – sounds the alarm by barking, but the woman’s husband takes no notice. On the left, Cupid raises a finger to his lips to prevent the two Venus-putti beneath the swing from giving the game away, while the outstretched left arm of the young man (the Baron) has an obvious, phallic significance.

Jean-honoré fragonard the swing 1766
This style of “frivolous” painting soon became the target of the philosophers of the Enlightenment, who demanded a more serious art which would show the nobility of man. [4]
The painting depicts an elegant young woman on a swing. A smiling young man, hiding in the bushes on the left, watches her from a vantage point that allows him to see up into her billowing dress, where his arm is pointed with hat in hand. A smiling older man, who is nearly hidden in the shadows on the right, propels the swing with a pair of ropes. The older man appears to be unaware of the young man. As the young lady swings high, she throws her left leg up, allowing her dainty shoe to fly through the air. The lady is wearing a bergère hat (shepherdess hat). Two statues are present, one of a putto, who watches from above the young man on the left with its finger in front of its lips in a sign of silence, the other of pair of putti, who watch from beside the older man, on the right. There is a small dog shown barking in the lower right hand corner, in front of the older man. According to the memoirs of the dramatist Charles Collé, [2] a courtier (homme de la cour) [3] asked first Gabriel François Doyen to make this painting of him and his mistress. Not comfortable with this frivolous work, Doyen refused and passed on the commission to Fragonard. [2] The man had requested a portrait of his mistress seated on a swing being pushed by a bishop, but Fragonard painted a layman.

Jean-honoré fragonard the swing 1766
Oil on canvas – Collection of The Frick Collection, New York, New York
Fragonard reportedly painted each of these portraits in only an hour and the speed with which they were executed contributes to the freshness and virtuosity of the brushstrokes. It is easy for the viewer to make out individual movements of the brush, capturing the loose folds of the shirt sleeve or the zig-zag of the cuff with fluidity. The colors are bright and intensely concentrated, particularly across the figure’s shirt. In The Writer and other works in this series, the energy of the painter’s process imbues the figures with a liveliness and immediacy of personality.

Jean-honoré fragonard the swing 1766
In addition, the Dutch of this time period were notorious for their inclusion of small symbolic items, which appear in The Swing in the case of the embracing putti and Cupid with his finger over his lips, to symbolize the secrecy of the affair. These are all reminiscent of earlier works by Rubens.
Boucher specialized in the combination of the pastoral scene with a passionate sensibility. While originally commissioned to paint mythological scenes, Fragonard had a knack for turning them into more of a boudoir scene in open air and this cheeky sensibility is reflected in The Swing.

Jean-honoré fragonard the swing 1766
Part of the ‘Secrets of the Wallace’ podcast series.
Could you give us some information about how The Swing came into being?


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