jean-honoré fragonard the swing period
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.
The Swing (L’Escarpolette), originally known as Lucky Happenings on the Swing (Les Hasards heureux de l’escarpolette), is Fragonard’s best known work. It is believed to have been commissioned by the Baron de Saint-Julien, who wanted a picture of his mistress on a swing being pushed by a bishop, whilst he (the Baron) was so positioned as to be able to see up her the girl’s skirt. (Note: The Baron’s insistence on a bishop was probably a private joke, as he himself occupied an important position in the Church, as Receiver General of the French clergy.) As it was, Fragonard replaced the bishop with the more traditional figure of a cuckolded husband, but otherwise fullfilled the commission almost to the letter.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing, oil on canvas, 1767 (Wallace Collection, London)
Figure 2. Detail of The Swing
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,  a courtier (homme de la cour)  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.  The man had requested a portrait of his mistress seated on a swing being pushed by a bishop, but Fragonard painted a layman.
- One copy, once owned by Edmond James de Rothschild,  portrays the woman in a blue dress. 
- The other is a smaller version (56 × 46 cm), owned by Duke Jules de Polignac.  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. 
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.
Oil on canvas – Collection of the Wallace Collection, London, United Kingdom
His mistress flies through the air on a sylvan swing, the lovely young lady giving herself away to frivolous abandon, her shoe flying off in the heat of the moment.
Considered to be Fragonard’s most successful painting, The Swing stands alone today as an emblem of Rococo art. The combination of insouciant attitude, tongue-in-cheek eroticism, pastel swirls, and pastoral scenery creates an irresistible testament to the beauty of youth and illegitimate affairs. In Fragonard’s world, adultery is but a devilishly gay way to pass the time.