The Swing by Jean Fragonard

One of my biggest faves ever has been Jean Fragonard’s (1732-1806) The Swing. This was painted back in 1767. You can learn more about Fragonard on this Wikipedia page. I could barely control myself when I saw it for the first time at the Wallace Collection. (and to think they only want a gold-coin donation to see this and all of the other items in the Wallace collection – priceless). The Swing is the emblematic painting of the Rococo period.

Set in an isolated grove, a seemingly innocent pleasure takes a turn towards the naughty. This was a commission given to Fragonard by the Baron de Saint-Julien, who wanted an unconventional portrait of himself with his mistress and he described the scene to Fragonard of what he wanted.

On accepting the commission, Fragonard agreed to the Baron’s wishes except for one change. Initially, the Baron wanted the man pushing the swing to the Bishop. Fragonard convinced the Baron to let him paint a cuckolded husband instead.

  • The two men are in the shadows of the painting. The Baron is reclining on the ground. The young lady soars upward on the swing with her billowing pink gown flying open, giving her lover a clear view up her skirt. She kicks off her shoe as a promise of all the other garments she will remove for him later.
  • Below the swing are the sculptured figures of cherubs known as Putti, the attendants of Venus, the Goddess of Love.

Great story, great painting. They must have had a swinging time!

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Source: Spanish painting by Jacques Lassaigne. Skira Geneva, 1952
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