The Swing: A Perfect Example of Rococo Art
Updated: Jun 4
The Swing, Jean-Honoré Fragonard. 1767 CE. Oil on canvas.
When I first saw The Swing, I was amazed. Over the past year, it has become one of my favorite paintings from the AP Art History curriculum. Not only is it visually appealing, but the playful message behind it is entertaining for any eager student. It is a refreshing piece compared to some of the other darker works, and I am glad it is included in the curriculum. As the title says, Fragonard's oil painting epitomizes Rococo art.
What even is Rococo art?
Rococo art was first popular in France during the early 1700s and later traveled to the rest of Europe. Rococo art is built off of Baroque art. It implements the dramatic elements from Baroque art but makes it lighter and more playful. When you think Rococo, the words playful, frivolous, and lighthearted should come to mind. It also has a sense of superficiality and vainness to it, while showing the joys of life. Rococo art is often seen as a foil to Neoclassicism, which is more serious.
What makes The Swing special?
The Swing depicts French aristocrats having fun and enjoying life in a cultivated garden. At first glance, the woman on the swing appears to be innocently kicking her shoe off, as a man in the bottom left corner peers up her skirt. However, the woman is actually being unfaithful as the man resting on his arm is her secret lover. Her promised husband is slightly hidden towards the right and is pushing her on the swing. The soon-to-be husband seemingly has no idea of the scandalous cheating that is occurring between his wife and the other man. The painting contains Cupid making a shushing motion, most likely referring to the secret affair that is depicted. Clearly, the painting has a sense of movement, and the artist accomplishes this by utilizing diagonal lines. For example, the ropes attached to the swing and the man leaning back both create a sense of motion. In addition, Fragonard is playing with light. He purposefully highlights the woman and the man she is cheating with, while the promised spouse is darker and harder to notice.
In my opinion, the most important aspect of this painting is that it is an example of Rococo art. To reiterate, Rococo art is typically playful and focuses on showing the joys of life. In addition, it is important to understand the subject of this painting. Fragonard is depicting aristocrats having a good time outdoors, and a playful cheating scandal is simultaneously occurring. Later on in the curriculum, you will learn about a second and more contemporary version of The Swing that was created by Yinka Shonibare. The AP loves to compare and contrast the two versions of The Swing so keep that in mind. One difference to consider is that Shonibare's version of the painting does not contain men and eliminates the cheating scandal.