Friday, March 7, 2014

The Swing: France's Pursuit of Pleasure

After the death of King Louis XIV (1715), there was a great shift from the "Grand Manner" art form to the new Rococo. Versailles was abandoned by the aristocracy, who sought to regain their personal preference, ideals, and styles, which King Louis had controlled up until this point. The aristocracy moved to Paris and began living lives of complete luxury (for they controlled 90% of Frances wealth and governmental power) and often were involved in romantic intrigue instead of actual work.

This style of living is scene in "The Swing" by Fragonard (1767) quite easily. As with most Rococo paintings, there is an quick understanding of this work. The overall idea is that a young couple trick an elderly man to push the woman in a swing so that her lover (who hides in the bushes) can see up her skirt! This lack of seriousness, like Baroque paintings, caused most Enlightenment thinkers to condemn such paintings since it doesn't show human behavior at its most noble.

A viewer's eye is instantly drawn to the bright pink in the middle of the canvas at first glance. We see a woman, riding a swing, and completely engulfed in pastel pink lace, floral, and swirling fabric. Her stockings exposed, she flips a pick slipper into the air, expressing complete interest in the moment. She is being pushed by a elderly gentlemen, who is most likely completely innocent to the lover's plot, on her left side. Her eyes meet with her lover's, who hides in overgrown rose bushes. A little fence barely controls these roses where the man hides, but gives us a clue that he isn't supposed to be there.

Above the hiding man, a statue of a cupid quiets the viewer with a "hush" and his finger over his lips. Two cupids (under the woman's left arm) cuddle, but give a scowl upon their faces.

Perhaps the most interesting piece is the yapping dog, a sign of infidelity. Could the shadowed man, the one pushing the woman, really be the woman's husband? Is there about to be a romantic interest with the man in the bushes or has it already happened?

Overall, this Rococo piece is full of symbolism, not only expressing the ideals of the aristocracy during this period, but showing the illicit spontaneity and overabundance that would latter cause the French Revolution and the uprising of the rest of the country's people.

Helpful Links:

Duffy, Stephen et al., The Wallace Collection, London: Scala Publishers Ltd. 2011.

Harris, Beth. "Fragonard's The Swing." Rococo. Khan Academy, 2005. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.

"The Swing." Artable: The Home of Passinate Art Lovers. Artble, 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.

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