Hello I’m Chistobel and I’m Niamh and today
we are going to be discussing decadence, agency and ambiguity in Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s
best known painting, The Swing. Here to give us some insider knowledge is Curatorial Assistant
Carmen Holdsworth-Delgado. Could you give us some information about how
The Swing came into being? A poet’s accounts has it that the history
painter Doyen was approached by an ‘unnamed person or gentleman of the court, who wanted
to commission him to paint a picture of his mistress on a swing, with him in the bushes
hiding, and being pushed by a bishop. He specifically said the lady on the swing should be showing
her ankles and more besides, if you want to enliven the picture further. Doyen was a little
bit scandalised by this and he suggested that Fragonard, instead, take over the commission.
This painting was made in 1767. How does Fragonard undercut the etiquette
of French eighteenth-century society? Well French eighteenth-century society, at
this time, is well known for being quite libertine. But they still had quite strict rules and
regulations and one of those was that men were allowed mistresses. Women possibly could
have a fancy man if they wanted, however they first had to provide a male heir to their
husband and be very discreet about it. So Fragonard was not undercutting society but
just putting it overtly out there what everyone knew to be happening at the time.
To what extent do you think the lady is situated as the object of desire versus the instigator
of romantic intrigue? That’s a really good question, I think Fragonard
leaves that completely open to us. It is very ambiguous and it’s a love triangle, even the
composition shows us that. The lady is sat on the Swing precariously balanced between
two people. Women at the time did not have much power in terms of money and lands (that
went from father to husband if there was any). But they did have influence and they had to
use their wiles and natural beauty to gain a position in Court. So she might hold the
power and beauty at the moment, but the precarious swing position shows us that it might not
last. How does Fragonard utilise the Rococo artistic
styles of the age? So firstly, Fragonard has created quite a
small picture. In the Rococo, rooms became smaller, cosier and more multifunctional.
These were conversational pieces allowing people to come up close to. It also shows
a lovely lady in a beautiful pink dress. The Rococo was well-known for its excessive use
of textiles and people at this time would have known other society portraits, maybe
even of Boucher’s Madame de Pompadour in a similar dress. These portraits were different
as the lady was static rather than in full fluid movement and not showing more than her
shoe. Lastly it’s quite normal for ladies to be shown with their favourite pet, Madame
de Pompadour is shown with her faithful and adoring dog. However, the dog in the Swing
is jumping up and excited, showing that all is not well in this relationship.
Thanks for watching. If you’re interested in seeing The Swing in person then come down
to the Wallace Collection and look out for more podcasts online.