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The Swinging Women of Watteau and Fragonard
Author(s): Donald PosnerSource: The Art Bulletin, Vol. 64, No. 1 (Mar., 1982), pp. 75-88Published by: College Art AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3050195 .Accessed: 03/11/2014 17:35Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected] .College Art Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The ArtBulletin.http://www.jstor.org
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When Penn’s Treaty was exhibited at the Royal
Academy in 1772, the painting was well received. Engravings
executed three years later by John Hall and published
by John Boydell were quite popular in England and
America. In the years that followed, a wide variety of
copies and reinterpretations made West’s epic painting
into an American icon.68 To understand the work’s
original message fully, however, one must look beyond
the William Penn legend. Because the painting suggested
the succession of Indian treaties and the problems of
Thomas Penn’s proprietorship, it spoke on many levels.
Peace had come to Pennsylvania in the early 1770’s. Friction
over elections, Indian raids, land transactions, and
even the campaign to unseat the proprietary government
appeared to have ended. The Penn family wanted to
strengthen its authority by suggesting that merchants,
Quakers, and Indians could now live and work without
dissension. West, therefore, used the familiar legend of
William Penn’s treaty to celebrate the return of peace to
Pennsylvania. Ironically, that peace would soon be
obliterated by a document written in Philadelphia only
five years later. Consequences of that Declaration would
virtually eradicate the disputes and differences of Penn’s
proprietary government. In the aftermath of the
revolutionary era, the initial meaning of West’s painting
would become shrouded by legend. Eventually it would
enter the annals of American lore as a symbol of those
tranquil Colonial days that had been blessed by decades of
peace and racial harmony.
National Museum of American Art
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C. 20560
Bibliography
Galt, John, The Life, Studies and Work of Benjamin West, 2 vols. (London,
1820), repr. Gainesville, Fla., 1960.
Hanna, William S., Benjamin Franklin and Pennsylvania Politics, Stanford,
1964.
Hutson, James, Pennsylvania Politics 1746-1770, The Movement for
Royal Government and Its Consequences, Princeton, 1972.
Myers, Albert Cook, ed., William Penn’s Own Account of the Lenni
Lenape or Delaware Indians, Somerset, N.J., 1970.
Sellers, Charles Coleman, “The Beginning: A Monument to Probity,
Candor and Peace,” Symbols of Peace: William Penn’s Treaty with the
Indians, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1976, n.p.
68 For an account of the exhibition at the Royal Academy, see Sellers, and
for the replicas of Penn’s Treaty, see Symbols of Peace (as in n. 3).
The Swinging Women of Watteau and Fragonard
Donald Posner
Everywhere and always women and girls must have enjoyed
the game of swinging, and they are seen on swings
in pictures or statues made in ancient Crete and Greece,
pre-Columbian Middle-America, the Near and Far East,
and postmedieval Europe. Occasionally children appear
on swings in art and, infrequently, men do too. Women
swinging are almost the rule, however, and nowhere and
at no time were they so much or so brilliantly depicted as
in eighteenth-century France.
Some years ago Hans Wentzel made a survey of swinging
scenes in Western art.’ He noted that that they virtually
disappeared during the medieval and Renaissance
periods, when they could not be absorbed very usefully
into the realms of religious and philosophical imagery that
dominated those times. After some antique examples of
the theme, he found none dating before the seventeenth
This paper was originally read in a slightly different form at the Art
Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, in 1975. Many people who heard it then or
later were interested and generous enough to call my attention to additional
literature and imagery concerning swinging, shoes, feet, or hats.
A few such items are cited in the notes below. Because most of them
seemed to confirm, without qualifying, my arguments, I have chosen to
maintain a semblance of brevity and not cite all of them. I hope I will not
therefore appear ungrateful; indeed, I would probably not be publishing
this paper were it not for the enthusiasm shown by friends and
colleagues, some of whom went to considerable trouble to send me
material related to swinging. I thank them all. I wish to single out for particular
thanks some people who worked with me or helped in
special ways at various stages in the research for the essay: Christine
Baltay; Kim de Beaumont; Robert Chambers; Mary Tavener Holmes;
Leslie Jones; Elizabeth Nicklas.
1 Wentzel, 187-218.
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76 THE ART BULLETIN MARCH 1982 VOLUME LXIV NUMBER 1
century, when swinging reappears, but mainly in prints
and, almost always, in emblematic contexts. These works
were not meant to convey the pleasures of the sport.
Instead, they show it in order to symbolize one of various
things or qualities: for example, the element of air (Fig. 6),
in which swinging takes place; or, because it is an aimless
activity that produces nothing tangible, “idleness”;2 or
again, because it involves constant going back and forth,
“inconstancy” or “fickleness.”3 An engraving made after
a now-lost painting by Watteau (Fig. 1) bears an expository
poem. The concluding verses tell us that though
the youth may use his every means to satisfy this girl, “he
will soon discover that she is too fickle for his liking.”4
It was at the beginning of the eighteenth century in
France that the woman on a swing started to appear
regularly in painting. Joseph Christophe painted the
theme as part of the redecoration undertaken at the
Versailles Menagerie in 1699, and Jacques van Schuppen
used it for a picture he exhibited in the Salon of 1704.s
Within a few years the woman swinging became one of
the established motifs in France for depictions of the
leisurely life. The main force in shaping its use was
Watteau and his followers.6
One has not often appreciated the extent to which many
fetes galantes and related images were iconographically
programmed. In fact, most were carefully constructed
from pictorial patterns and motifs that conveyed
narrative, psychological, or allegorical meanings. And
swinging, like many other everyday activities seen in art,
carried a varied freight of connotation and innuendo,
which we must understand and respond to if we are fully
to appreciate a group of pictures that includes several
masterpieces.
Women’s inconstancy in affairs of the heart was one of
the most popular associations made with swinging, which
in part explains why one rarely sees any but women on
swings in eighteenth-century art. Watteau’s Swing (Fig. 1)
does not convey the idea of inconstancy in pictorial terms,
but the poetaster who provided the text for the print after
it felt justified in his assumption about the woman’s temperament.
I think we can be sure that Watteau would have
expected as much. In more ambitious works where he
shows swinging, he weaves the idea of inconstancy into
the fabric of their content.
In the left background of the great painting called The
Shepherds (Fig. 2) a girl with her back to us is seen on a
swing. Her head is turned just slightly towards the young
man who accompanies her. Is she encouraging him or re-
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1 After Watteau, The Swing, engraving (photo: Metropolitan
Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert N. Straus, 1928)
jecting his overtures? The poor boy holds his arms open as
if uncertain whether to give her a push or to keep his distance.
Inconstancy, teasing changes of mind if not of
heart, is a large part of the flirting game. A swinging scene
in a painting by Pater that is based on Watteau’s composition
was explained in much this way in verses appended to
the 1739 print after the picture.7 In them the swinger is
contrasted to seated couples who supposedly exchange
heartfelt words of love; the girl on the swing prefers to
play. Pater’s painting has a pendant which incorporates a
2 Wentzel cites an example, 193, n. 10.
3 Ibid.
4 “Tel un Galant adroit met tout l’art en usage:/ Mais bient6t il la trouve
a son gr’ trop volage.”
For the painting see Rosenberg and Camesasca, No. 36.
5 Cf. P. Marcel, La Peinture frangaise au debut du dix-huitieme sikcle,
Paris, n.d., 267f.
6 Wentzel, 195, notes that Lancret represented the subject at least eight
times, and Pater nine times.
7For this painting and its pendant, and for the verses on the prints after
them, see Wallace Collection Catalogues, Pictures and Drawings, 16th
ed., London, 1968, 233f. Pater’s model may have been Watteau’s earlier
version of the composition at Chantilly (Rosenberg and Camesasca, No.
150).
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THE SWINGS OF WATTEAU AND FRAGONARD 77
2 Watteau, The
Shepherds. Berlin,
Charlottenburg
Castle (photo:
Verwaltung der
Staatlichen
Schl6sser und
Garten)
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AHIS Short Answer essay
Order Description
Read Posner’s article carefully. It is helpful to take notes while reading in order to organize your thoughts. Answer the prompt in the format of a two-page, double-spaced, typed essay. Remember to edit and check your so that it reads as nicely as possible. I recommend reading your work aloud or to a friend, this process often catches many errors. Requiment and the articles are all in the Additional materials.

References:

http://educorpwriters.com/ahis-short-answer-essay/

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