Fragonard’s The Swing is perhaps a little too sugary-sweet for our taste, reminding us of the extravagance that defines the Rococo era of 18th century France. Looking beyond the layers of pink ruffle, however, reveals how this particular style fit in with social conventions characteristic of the time. Swinging was associated with play in the context of love and the elaborate game of courtship, and it gave new freedom to the meaning of flirting and frivolity within the strict social codes of conduct. The swing was a metaphor for the fickle nature of women, for example, and the shoe flying off the bare foot had obvious sexual connotations. The man looking up the woman’s skirt (getting a peek was part of the point) was none other than the patron who commissioned this painting, the Baron de Saint-Julien, or the Reciever-General of the French Clergy. The woman swinging is his mistress and the man pulling the swing is meant to be a bishop. Even though this would have hung in the Baron’s private petite-maison, or pleasure house, Fragonard toned down some of the more explicit details that the Baron had originally requested, such as the recognizability of the figures. There were, after all, limits to this French Clergyman a sense of humor.
More about The Swing
Bonnard’s France-Champagne was his first poster that kicked off his career as an artist and his involvement in the graphic arts during the 1890’s. He received 100 francs for his work, convincing him to quit his career aspirations as a lawyer and concentrate on being an artist. Japanese prints were undoubtedly an inspiration, but, more than that, he came up with a unique style that complemented the emergence of large-scale advertising and avante-garde climate of art world. He even introduced Toulouse-Lautrec to his printer, and Lautrec went on to develop a successful lithographic style that is rooted in Bonnard’s aesthetic.