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The son of a haberdasher, Jean-Honore Fragonard grew up to become one of the most sought-after court painters in 18th-century France. He was originally to become a lawyer, but Fragonard's natural gifts in drawing led him to the studio of Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779), who rejected the student and sent him along to the studio of Francois Boucher (1703-1770).

Accepted by Boucher, Fragonard flourished. He won the Prix de Rome in 1752, after which he spent six years studying in Rome and Venice, where he was deeply influenced by the work of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770). Although his early work featured historical and allegorical scenes, he soon abandoned this serious subject matter for the genre scenes of the frivolities and gentile pleasures of the Rococo: works that would make him famous and rich.

"The demand of the wealthy art patrons of Louis XV's pleasure-loving and licentious court turned him towards those scenes of love and voluptuousness with which he will always be associated" (source: Working more than 100 years before Claude Monet's Impression, Sunrise (1872) sent shock waves through the Parisian art establishment, Fragonard's loose, lush brushstrokes garnered both praise and criticism.

Timing was not on Fragonard's side: The advent of the French Revolution ended the monarchy, and with it the artist's lucrative commissions. He fled Paris to avoid the fate of many of his social circle, but 10 years later returned to a world forever changed.

Neoclassical painter Jean Louis David (1748-1825) welcomed the artist back, offering him a post at the Louvre, where he served as a museum commissioner. For a painter once so wildly popular, Fragonard died in relative obscurity and poverty.


We conclude this year's Clip & Save Art Print series with one of the most iconographic images in Western art, The Swing, by the French Rococo painter, Jean-Honore Fragonard. "The Swing is Fragonard's best-known painting, encapsulating for many the finesse, humour and joie de vivre of the Rococo. No other work better demonstrates his ability to combine erotic licence with a visionary feeling for nature" (source:

The commission was originally given to the history painter Gabriel Francois Doyen (1726-1806), but the erotically charged subject matter dissuaded Doyen from going forward with the job. The commission was offered to Fragonard, and the rest is history.

The Swing is an example of French genre scenes known as fetes galantes--small-scale paintings that represent figural groupings of well-heeled ladies and gentleman shown in lush landscapes and participating in flirtatious or mildly erotic behavior. In the painting, a young woman in frothy pink silk is being pushed on a tree swing by a much older gentleman. She playfully kicks off her delicate slipper in full view of her lover, who hides in the garden's lush undergrowth with a perspective of his paramour's undergarments. A soft column of light illuminates the slightly hedonistic scene of youthful naughtiness.

"French [genre] pictures and related subjects do not, as often thought, merely mirror real-life activities. They are usually constructed from pictorial patterns and motifs that were meant to convey narrative, psychological or allegorical content. Swinging is a motif that carried a varied, mostly erotic, freight of connotation and innuendo ... " (source: Abstract. The Art Bulletin. Vol. 64. No. 1, March 1982, pgs. 75-88).

While The Swing seems tame by today's standards, it caused a scandal at its unveiling. At the same time, it was praised for the artist's expert handling of paint, control of line and voluptuous color. Then, as now, his ability to perfectly capture the spirit and frivolity of 18th-century French society is what has made this work of art one of the most popular paintings ever created.

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Title Annotation:clip & save art print: ART NOTES
Author:Carroll, Colleen
Publication:Arts & Activities
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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