Jean-Honore Fragonard:
The See-Saw

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    • Oil on Canvas: 46 x 36 inches
    • 1755
    • Fundación Colección Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Fragonard's scenes often can be described as a swirl of soft pastel colors, representative presentations for frivolity and gallantry of aristocrats, and yet oddly enough a sentimental portrayal of rural life.

Pastoral scenes such as this were frequently mere excuses for erotic paintings. But after his marriage in 1769 Fragonard devoted much of his time to painting children and family scenes (usually called genre painting) So in this picture of a couple on a see-saw, while he returns to the classic peasant boy and milk-maid grouping, the sexual aspect is understated here, as it was in its companion piece, Blindman's Bluff.. Although the sexual symbols are present, blooming flowers, ripe fruit, even "cupid-like infants", the couple in the seesaw are not actually rocking back and forth but are using the plank, weighed down with the help of two little boys, to lift the girl up into the air where she grasps a tree branch to steady herself. Indeed it appears the young man is wooing a baby-sitter, who is generally ignoring her charges.

More important than the subject matter, however, are the soft tones and colors of the palate. What do these aspects say about the self-conscious image of French aristocrats on the eve of the revolution? Can this picture be analyzed in terms of contemporary French society?

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