You don’t always feel like watching insightful paintings. Sometimes you want something light and airy. Let’s say, an art dessert. Like marshmallows with creme brulee flavor. Or whipped cream with berry syrup.
Of course, the most “dessert” paintings works in the Rococo style. And the most famous of them is the Swing by Jean–Honore Fragonard (1732-1806). A girl in a peach dress look like a strawberry on a bouffant meringue and cream cake.
What is Fragonard’s Swing so precious?
You shouldn’t treat the Swing as a sheer decoration. Indeed, a couple of years ago I could only snort when seeing Rococo paintings, considering them empty and not worth my attention.
It’s important to put everything in context. And the Swing is an artistic response to the mores of 18th-century French society.
Which means that the painting can be interesting at least as a witness of what was going on in the heads of aristocracy of those days.
We can blame them for shallowness of their interests. For being too focused on flirting. On the excessive decorations.
Let alone the moral liberty, when having a lover was not only normal, but almost “shame on those who don’t have one”.
The Swing and the Rococo phenomenon
You can’t deny that the Rococo phenomenon is unique. It was preceded by the Baroque era. It was from it that Rococo inherited pomp, detail, and emotion.
But Rococo exaggerated all this and made it absolutely cute and mawkish. Emotions went down, just like details. And bright colors became lighter, turning into such as shades as “the color excited Venus’s hip” or the “Gray flax color – endless love”.
Oh, how sugary it is! Something tells me that if you don’t like sweets, you don’t like Rococo.
And it is only 200 years after the Renaissance era! When spiritual enlightenment, wide readingand wise actions and words were above anything else.
How different a human can be! When values and tastes can change so rapidly. And they would change. The Rococo era (in France) would be blown away by the revolution in the late 18th century.
Meanwhile, all the Rococo “philosophy” can be found in Fragonard’s Swing.
The Swing’s plain plot
A beautiful, sweet girl is being swung by an elderly spouse. A young, rosy-cheeked admirer is hiding ecstatically in a rosehip bush. After all, he’s enjoying such a piquant view.
The lady has no objections, on the contrary, she raises her foot even higher so that the shoe has flown in an unknown direction.
Meanwhile, the husband has no idea that his wife is already playing him false in her thoughts. And she is obviously not behaving like a virtuous lady.
And who can do without ancient gods? After all, morals were even worse in Ancient Rome.
Opposite the young lady, there is Falcone’s statue of the Threatening Cupid. With one hand, he makes a gesture looking either like “Tut-tut” or “Shh”. But with his right hand, he is reaching for the arrows in his quiver. Going to shoot the intended victim.
A sting in Fragonard’s Swing
It seems that the painting is full of idleness and frivolity. But frankly speaking, I’m confused by the garden where the events take place. An old, gnarled tree with extremely crooked, even ugly branches resembles more of cracks.
The green leaves swirl so heavily, as if everything us happening in an impassable thicket, not in a garden. The trees build up such a dense crown that it’s very dark “inside” the painting, but for the gap in the middle, which the young lady on the swing were “caught” in.
Why did Fragonard choose these surroundings? Why not to paint a classic French garden with clipped trees, where everything is lit by the sunlight?
A wild forest painted by Fragonard’s teacher Francois Boucher looks more well-kept than this park.
It looks as if Fragonard was trying to reduce the excessive sweetness. Make the painting mean something more than just a decorative candy for the eye.
Perhaps Fragonard realized that such behavior, be it never so welcomed by the society, wouldn’treally make anyone happy. And even now, the clouds are gathering around the girl intending to put horns on her spouse. Darkness is creeping to all three of them.
Not for nothing the Swing has become a cult painting. When it comes to the Rococo era, it is the one most remembered work. Probably, it is due to the fact that it’s not as shallow as most of the paintings of second-rate artists.
The Fate of Fragonard’s Swing
The Rococo era will instantly collapse under pressure of the revolution that had absolutely different demands for art. And people like Fragonard would have a hard time. He would die in poverty, completely forgotten.
And his Swing would hang in one private collection after another. And only in 1900 it would be shown to the public in a London gallery, in the Wallace Collection.
By then, the revolution would be a thing of the past. And the painting would very well fit into the kindred art nouveau period. DO you remember, this is about numerous flowers, curls and pretty girls?
Another whirl of sweetness and decorativeness before another shock. Art nouveau would also be quickly destroyed by the pressure of the 20th-century world wars.
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Photos: Wikimedia Commons