Fragonard – The Swing

The spirit of eighteenth century French court painting, and the taste of the aristocratic society that supported it, are well represented by this bit of pretty decoration. Too often the art of this period was stereotyped, overloaded with dead, conventional surface ornament, as in most of the examples in this collection. Especially, as in the Bouchers here, it intended to become a mere weak, plastery echo of the classical. Renaissance. But occasionally it expressed the ideals of its age in a fresh, consistent way, and the result is a distinctive world of the imagination. Simplicity and strength are not features of that world, nor an honest look at ugliness and tragedy; it is a dream of endless luxury and gay amusements.

The rhythm of motion in this picture, appropriately, is one of light, dainty, fluttery swirls, in silken flounces tossed coquettishly, and in the twisting flight of branches overhead. The countless small details are well organized. and subordinated in large groupings. Color and light are neither too strong and rich for the purpose, nor insensitively hard and superficial. They create a deep space and a kind of substance that are quite unnatural, but convincing enough in their own way. Nothing is firm, plain or solid; everything floats in a delicate mist of soft green foliage, thornless roses, pink and lavender silks and fluffy pale blue clouds. There is obviously nothing in it to move one deeply, but within its limits it is successful as a harmonious, original and fairly complex design.