the swing fragonard
A highly important figure in 18th century French painting, who now ranks among the greatest of all Rococo artists, the exceptionally talented Fragonard trained under Francois Boucher – whose main patron was Louis XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour – and Jean Chardin, famous for his still life painting and genre works. Winner of the Prix de Rome run by the French Academy, he was influenced by the pastoral scenes of Nicolas Poussin and above all by the freer, more colourful painting of Giambattista Tiepolo, famous for his Wurzburg Residence frescoes (1750-53). During the mid-1760s, revitalizing the idiom pioneered by Jean-Antoine Watteau, Fragonard began to specialize in the playful, erotic compositions for which he is now most famous. His delicate 18th century colour palette, witty content and fast brushwork gave even his most voyeuristic canvases a wonderful atmosphere of gaiety and joyfulness.
An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump (1768) by Joseph Wright of Derby.
National Gallery, London.
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.
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. 
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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.
The original owner remains unclear. A firm provenance begins only with the tax farmer M.-F. Ménage de Pressigny, who died in 1794, after which it was seized by the revolutionary government. It was possibly later owned by the marquis des Razins de Saint-Marc, and certainly by the duc de Morny. After his death in 1865 it was bought at auction in Paris by Lord Hertford, the main founder of the Wallace Collection.
Also know as The Happy Accidents of the Swing, this painting is considered one of the great master works of the Rococo era. The picture depicts a young woman on a tree swing, being pushed by her husband. The young woman is clearly flirting with the young man in the foreground, of whom her husband is unaware. The painting was first commissioned to Gabriel Francois Doyen by a young nobleman, to depict him and his mistress. Doyen, of the opinion that the painting was frivolous, refused the commission and passed it on to Fragonard. This painting has influences many later works, from paintings to sculptures, the most recent being the animated feature film Tangled, created in the style of the painting.
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.
Oil on canvas – Collection of MusГ©e du Louvre, Paris, France