The Wallace Collection

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Les hazards heureux de l'escarpolette (The Swing)
  • Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732 - 1806)
  • Les hazards heureux de l'escarpolette (The Swing)
  • France
  • c. 1767 - 1768
  • Painting
  • Oil on canvas
  • Image size: 81 x 64.2 cm
    Made up to, Object size: 81.8 x 64.8 cm
  • Signature: 'fr…..rd' Signed indistinctly
  • P430
  • Oval Drawing Room
Commentary
History
Further Reading
  • The painting is Fragonard's most famous works, and one of the most emblematic images of eighteenth-century art. Its genesis is reported by the writer Charles Collé. According to his journals and memoirs for 1767, the history painter Gabriel-François Doyen was commissioned by an unnamed ‘gentleman of the Court’ late in 1767 to paint his young mistress on a swing, pushed by a bishop with himself admiring her legs from below.

    Doyen, who had just had a major success at the Salon as a religious history poainter refused and suggested Fragonard. Fragonard was at that time about to completely change his career from a history painter with important royal commissions to a painter of small and highly sophisticated cabinet pictures. This was at least in part a reaction to his problems with payments from the royal arts administration. The commission might have in part triggered that change or might simply have come at the right moment.The painting marks the re-launch of Fragonard's career with paintings for a small, well-informed circle. Those could either be highly erotic works, like P430, or works that required an advanced knowledge of art history and old master painting. Fragonard's move was highly successful.

    Compared with the original brief, in the finished painting, the older man is no longer a priest, a barking dog has been added, and Falconet's sculpture of 'L'amour menaçant (Menacing Love)' comments on the story. Fragonard answers the libertine bintentions of his patron by picking a rococo style. Fragonard was often employing different styles or languages at the same time, and he seems to have seen a Rococo idiom as particularly apt for an erotic scene. This move has fundamentally shaped perceptions of Rococo art. With Fragonard's famous work, the style changed its associations. Fragonard combines a backward-looking Rococo element with a pre-Romantic rendering of a forceful and uncontrollable, often obscene nature.

    The name of the work derives from an engraving by Nicolas de Launay after the painting that was published in 1782. It has been used as a template for countless caricatures and is increasingly popular with contemporary artists and designers.