rococo the swing – what year was it done

Rococo the swing - what year was it done
• Oath of the Horatii (1785) by Jacques-Louis David.
Louvre Museum, Paris.
Interpretation of Other 18th Century Paintings

Rococo the swing - what year was it done
Jean-Honoré Fragonard, “Self-Portrait in a Renaissance Costume,” ca. 1760-70 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Today, The Swing hangs in the Wallace Collection amongst other acclaimed Rococo works in London, England. Due to the painting’s frivolity and romantic whimsy, it remains highly celebrated and even referenced in popular culture and fashion. Most notably perhaps is by fashion designer Manolo Blahnik, who designed a Swing-inspired pair of shoes for Sofia Coppola’s film Marie Antoinette.

Rococo the swing - what year was it done
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.

Rococo the swing - what year was it done
Figure 1. Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Swing, oil on canvas, 1767 (Wallace Collection, London)
What kind of lifestyle did the aristocracy lead during this period? Remember that the aristocracy had enormous political power as well as enormous wealth. Many chose leisure as a pursuit and became involved themselves in romantic intrigues. Indeed, they created a culture of luxury and excess that formed a stark contrast to the lives of most people in France. The aristocracy, only a small percentage of the population of France, owned over 90% of its wealth. A small, but growing middle class does not sit still with this for long (remember the French Revolution of 1789).

Rococo the swing - what year was it done
Color Palette:
The Rococo style attempted to appeal more to the sensual rather than the intellectual side. As a result Fragonard utilized a delicate pastel color palette that would be just as at home in a cupcake shop as on canvas, with frothy creams, juicy pinks, and minty greens.
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.


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