Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Catalog Entry: The Swing (painting)

    The Swing also is known as The Happy Accidents of the Swing is an 18th century oil painting created by French painter, draftsman, and printmaker, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, who worked in the Rococo style. This painting is considered to be Fragonard's most recognizable and fruitful painting. 

     Fragonard was born in Grasse, Alpes-Maritimes and later moved to Paris with his family in 1738. In his youth, he spent most of his time in the studio of François Boucher, a known French painter, and draughtsman. After competing for the Prix de Rome, a French scholarship for art students, in 1752 Fragonard studied at the École Royale des Elèves Protégés in Paris. Between 1756 to 1761, he lived in Italy where he developed an appreciation for Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. In 1761 Fragonard also found commercial success in marketing cabinet pictures, which was heavily influenced by both 17th Dutch landscapes and Italian Baroque paintings. “During this period, he further developed the painterly surface of his canvases, working with great rapidity and little blending, giving pictorial form to the qualities of “fire” and “genius” so admired by contemporary collectors.” (Stein, 2004).  

     Fragonard specialized in historical paintings however when he returned to Paris; he started embracing and focusing on painting erotic subjects and Vogue, which can be seen in The Swing. This oil painting was created in 1967 and was an instant successful for its technical excellence (Jean-Honore, N.D.). It stands 81 centimeters high and 64.20 centimeters wide. The Swing was commissioned by the French libertine Baron de St. Julien and is a portrait of his mistress. “The Swing was to be painted to the following specificity: "I should like you to paint Madame seated on a swing being pushed by a Bishop." (Jean-Honore, N.D.). Baron’s request was denied by numerous known French artists including Gabriel François Doyen. Fragonard however accepted the offer and developed what is now one of the most iconic works of the French Rococo. 
     The Swing is represented in a triangular shape, where Baron and the husband are seen forming the bottom of the pyramid. The maiden is displayed on a swing sitting in the air at the top of the triangle. “She is illuminated by the soft lighting coming from above, and the fanciful trees form an oval frame for the action in the center.” (The Swing, 2015). In Fragonard’s painting are several hidden details including two putti embracing, a stone statue of Cupid, a lap dog, and dolphin. Additionally, most noticeable is that this painting represents a playful scene. “The lady's slipper, which flies off her foot as she swings so easily, is another playful touch which helps accentuate the erotic subject matter, as well as providing a visual focus in the splash of sunlight.” (The Swing, 2015). 

     The Rococo style appeals to the sensual and thus Fragonard utilized a pastel color palette. This technique also provides an overall effect of erotic amusement and lightheartedness. In this outdoor scene, Fragonard used a soft rounded patches sunlight shining through the trees and backlighting them. This technique fills the scene with a gentle and charming glow. “The light hits the young lady on the swing, highlighting her fair skin and the creamy billows of fabric that swirl around her.” (The Swing, 2015). The mood of this painting is lightsome and joyful.  

     Fragonard expresses the importance of the free and easy nature of the subject. “[He] uses a fluid, loose brushstroke, keeping the edges soft with regards to his main figures.” (The Swing, N.D.). Today, Fragonard's The Swing is still admired in pop culture and mostly in high fashion, because it serves a manifesto to the lightheartedness of the Rococo era. “To many, this painting embodies the entire spirit of the ancient regime on the eve of the revolution.” (Stein, 2004). This painting also share the same style and tone as his other scenery paintings: The See-Saw, Blindman's Bluff, The Stolen Kiss, and the Meeting (Stein, 2004). 

     It is still unclear who were the original owner of this painting. There is a possibility that either the Marquis des Razins de Saint-Marc or the Duc de Morny once owned it. His work was purchased at an auction in Paris by Lord Hertford, who is the main founder of the Wallace Collection. Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Swing can be seen in the Wallace Collection in London. 


"Jean-Honore Fragonard: The Swing." The Swing - Jean-Honore Fragonard. N.p., n.d. Web. 23  Apr. 2017.

Stein, Perrin. "Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806) | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art  History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art." The Met's Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

"The Swing." Artble. N.p., 12 June 2015. Web. 23 Apr. 2017.

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