the swing by fragonard
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.
The Swing (French: L’Escarpolette), also known as The Happy Accidents of the Swing (French: Les Hasards heureux de l’escarpolette, the original title), is an 18th-century oil painting by Jean-Honoré Fragonard in the Wallace Collection in London. It is considered to be one of the masterpieces of the Rococo era, and is Fragonard’s best known work. 
Now regarded as one of the greatest painters in the Rococo movement, Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s prolific career was characterized by outstanding success in genre paintings of merriment and veiled hedonism. Likewise, the story of The Swing begins with the commission request by Baron Louis-Guillaume Baillet de Saint-Julien, who wanted a portrait of his mistress. The Baron was very clear in his salacious intentions, specifically asking that in the painting his mistress was pushed on a swing by a bishop, while he (the Baron) looked up his mistress’s dress.
Clearly Fragonard had no qualms in fulfilling the Baron’s bawdy requests as one glance at The Swing shows that the painting is bursting with incomparable glee and rapture. The star, wearing a fluffy, ballet-pink dress, flies on a luscious red-cushioned swing through the outlandish foliage until she kicks her pink mule off of her foot, letting the ecstatic gentleman below see up her skirt.
Fragonard’s iconic painting is one of the most emblematic images of 18th-century French art. A young woman wearing a lovely pink silk frock is tantalisingly positioned mid-air on a swing between her elderly husband on the right and her young lover on the left. The force of the swing caused one of her slippers to fly off, resulting in a privileged view for her lover whose delight is suggested by the symbolic offer of his hat.
This summer 2019 saw the launch of our ground-breaking conservation and research project focused around the Collection’s eight masterpieces by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.
Tone and Mood:
The mood in the painting is lighthearted and gay. The overall effect is one of erotic mirth and frivolity, typical of Rococo works. The contrast between light and shadow adds to the feeling that something illicit is taking place.
In contrast, other aspects of the painting remain in shadow, such as the husband, possibly referencing his being “in the dark” as to his wife’s affair.
The Swing is one of Fragonard’s best-known works, a somewhat risquГ© composition depicting the mistress of the Baron de Saint-Julien. This young girl, positioned at the composition’s centre, appears on a swing, wearing a pink dress. She is pushed by a smiling man, who does not realise another man is amongst the shrubs, looking up her skirt. She, however, appears to have engineered the scene, looking down at him as she moves through the air. The scene is set against an unruly forest crowded with statuary alongside people and plants. The girl’s outstretched foot, from which a slipper flies, points at the most prominent sculpture, recognisable to viewers as Etienne-Maurice Falconet’s Menacing Cupid.
The Progress of Love series showcases Fragonard’s sense of rhythm in narrative and ability to create and resolve dramatic tension through the settings in which his figures are placed. In Love Letter, a break in the foliage above serves both to direct the audience’s eye toward the central couple and to illuminate them. The composition is framed by elements including flowers, foliage and statuary, all of which clarify the central meaning whilst retaining the viewer’s focus. This is the panel in which the narrative reaches resolution and this is reflected in the sky and trees; the dark clouds and rustling branches of earlier panels have given way to the restful glow of a calm twilight. It is this attention to mood, rendered through subtle shifts in light and the texture of brushstrokes, that set Fragonard’s work above that of his contemporaries.