I love The Rococo period because their witty paintings are fraught with frivolity and fantasy, often depicting scenes where lovers engage in amorous behaviour. The ornate garden scenes and the soft pastel colors are really pretty too.
So much is going on in this painting which makes it very entertaining for me to study.
Let’s Take a Look at The Swing
The Swing, Fragonard, Wallace Collection
The only man willing to do the job, Jean-Honore Fragonard, was commissioned by the Baron de Saint-Julien, who desired a painting of his mistress swinging while he, the sneaky Baron, observes in the bushes. What makes this painting even more illicit and exciting is the older man on the bottom right who is pushing the girl on the swing.
Could this man in the shadows be her oblivious husband who is completely “in the dark” about his wife’s affair?
detail of husband, dog, and putti
While he happily pushes his wife into the arms of another man, notice the yapping dog at his feet. I think this dog knows what’s up and is trying to spoil the fun. Luckily for the lovers, nobody is fluent in dog. This dog is probably also there as a cheeky poke at the husband, in that dogs in paintings often symbolize:
A Call To Secrecy
A cupid statue on the left with his finger covering his lips in the “ssshhh” position, does his part to keep the affair quiet. He must be trying to make that noisy dog join in on the mischievous behaviour. There goes her dainty shoe, which you can see being kicked off in the last detail . . .
Illuminated in the middle of the painting we have the lovers in question. “The Swingers.” Notice the mistress’s beautiful and frilly pink dress blowing in the wind as she playfully flies through the air. And check out that naughty Baron; he’s got the best seat in the house. I read on artble.com, that the Baron gave the painter the following instructions:
“Place me in a position where I can observe the legs of that charming girl.”
Wow, that rapscallion sure knew how to Woo the ladies, didn’t he?
A Love Triangle
Fragonard painted the scene in a triangular composition, which helps lead the viewers eyes all over the painting to highlight the important details of the scene: The Love Triangle. Aaaahh, now we can see her shoe being kicked off as she get’s lost in the frivolity.
Darkness in the Age of Enlightenment
Rococo was a satirical response to the more serious advancements being made during the Age of Enlightenment, where people sought out rational thinking over the prevailing acceptance of divine powers. In The Swing, Fragonard successfully uses “light” to bring awareness to the underlying “dark” forces at play.
Whoever said that studying art is boring? If this was the plot of a tv show, people would be glued to their screens.
So, what do you think of this famous Rococo painting?
Fragonard painted some other playful scenes you should definitely check out. Some intriguing titles include, “The Stolen Kiss,” and “Rinaldo in the Enchanted Forest.”
Reference used: Adams, Laurie Schneider. Art Across Time. Third Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.