Jean-Honore Fragonard:
The Swing

Click on the picture to see an enlarged version.

    • Oil on Canvas
    • 1766
    • The Wallace Collection, London

Fragonard's scenes of frivolity and gallantry are considered the embodiment of the Rococo spirit. A pupil of Chardin and later Boucher, he won the Prix de Rome and from 1756 to 1761 was in Italy, where he developed a particular admiration for Tiepolo and the late Baroque style. In this period he specialized in large historical paintings.

Returning to Paris, he soon changed this style, adopting instead the erotic subjects then in vogue and for which he is chiefly known, of which The Swing is the most famous.

This picture became an immediate success, not merely for its technical excellence, but for the scandal behind it. The young nobleman is not only getting an interesting view up the lady's skirt, but she is being pushed into this position by her priest-lover, shown in the rear.

In this same spirit are some other famous pictures, The See-Saw, Blindman's Bluff, The Stolen Kiss, and the Meeting. After his marriage in 1769, he began painting children and family scenes (usually called genre painting) and even returned to religious subjects. He stopped exhibiting publicly in 1770 and all his later works are commissions from private patrons.

To many, this painting embodies the entire spirit of the ancien regime on the eve of the revolution. What elements do you find representative of French society and morals?

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