Jean Honoré Fragonard The Swing 1767 depicts an elegant and wealthy young woman perched atop a swing. Swaying to and forth with gleeful abandon, she kicks her shoe toward a smiling young man below.
Also known as The Happy Accidents of the Swing, this painting is a true masterpiece of 19th century French art from the Rococo period.
Amongst Fragonard's paintings, The Swing is highly unusual. It presents an almost dreamlike setting without the troubles and cares of everyday life.
An unknown courtier commissioned Fragonard to create this oil painting which depicts a courtly nobleman and his lover. The artist Gabriel François Doyen was initially asked to complete the work but refused as he was uncomfortable with the frivolous and scandalous subject matter. Fragonard subsequently received the commission.
Aside from the commission, Fragonard’s reasons for painting The Swing remain unknown. Despite this, its provocative undertones are apparent.
The vantage point (from which the young man views the woman) allows him to see directly up her billowing skirts. Indeed, his arm longingly stretches in this direction. She, in turn, appears illuminated by a brilliant shaft of light cutting through the otherwise gloomy woodland setting.
A smiling older man (visible at the bottom right of the canvas) propels the woman. He’s seemingly unaware of her young suitor below. The original brief for the painting specified that a Bishop pushed the swing. Despite this, Fragonard depicted the older man as a simple layperson instead.
The Swing is surprisingly small at 81 by 64 centimeters (about 31 by 25 inches).
Despite its relatively small size, Fragonard includes an astounding array of details.
The painting contains two statues. The first statue watches from above the young man and has a finger covering its lips (a sign of silence, hinting at the affair). The second statue (a pair of putti or cherubs, perhaps a mocking nod to innocence) watches from near the older gentleman.
A small dog (a further ironic allusion to fidelity) barks at the lower right-hand corner. The gnarled trees, leaves, bushes, and branches exhibit precise detail, adding to the dreamlike effect of the painting.
Despite her opulent dress and silk slippers, the woman wears a shepherdess hat, a “bergère” in France. The style was popular amongst the upper classes. As a pastiche of working-class fashion, it hints at class strife building in France at this time.
Considered one of the finest masterpieces of the Rococo period, The Swing is the most recognizable example of Fragonard art.
Jean Honoré Fragonard was a French Rococo painter. Less commonly referred to as “Late Baroque”, this style is exceptionally decorative and theatrical. It covers various endeavors, from art to architecture and theater, usually encompassing pastel colors, gliding curves, ornamental detailing, and asymmetrical compositions.
Rococo style painting began in France as early as the 1730s. It reacted against the more formal classical style previously favored by the influential French Academy of Arts. Despite its revolutionary beginnings, it quickly spread all over Europe, favored for decorating high-society private residences and even religious buildings.
As a true Rococo work of genius, The Swing painting hangs in the Wallace Collection in London, UK, and is just one of our Jean-Honoré Fragonard oil painting reproductions.
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