the swing

The swing
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.

The swing
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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.

The swing
As with most Rococo paintings, the subject of Fragonard’s The Swing is not very complicated! Two lovers have conspired to get this older fellow to push the youg lady in the swing while her lover hides in the bushes. Their idea is that as she goes up in the swing, she can part her legs, and he can get a perfect view up her skirt.
Figure 2. Detail of The Swing

The swing
Boucher specialized in the combination of the pastoral scene with a passionate sensibility. While originally commissioned to paint mythological scenes, Fragonard had a knack for turning them into more of a boudoir scene in open air and this cheeky sensibility is reflected in The Swing.
Fragonard included a number of hidden details within the composition to heighten the message of playful love, including two putti embracing, a stone lap dog and dolphin, and a stone statue of Cupid.

The swing
To what extent do you think the lady is situated as the object of desire versus the instigator of romantic intrigue?
So firstly, Fragonard has created quite a small picture. In the Rococo, rooms became smaller, cosier and more multifunctional. These were conversational pieces allowing people to come up close to. It also shows a lovely lady in a beautiful pink dress. The Rococo was well-known for its excessive use of textiles and people at this time would have known other society portraits, maybe even of Boucher’s Madame de Pompadour in a similar dress. These portraits were different as the lady was static rather than in full fluid movement and not showing more than her shoe. Lastly it’s quite normal for ladies to be shown with their favourite pet, Madame de Pompadour is shown with her faithful and adoring dog. However, the dog in the Swing is jumping up and excited, showing that all is not well in this relationship.


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