AHIS Short Answer essay

AHIS Short Answer essay
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Read Posner’s article carefully. It is helpful to take notes while reading in order to organize your thoughts. Answer the prompt in the format of a two-page, double-spaced, typed essay. Remember to edit and check your so that it reads as nicely as possible. I recommend reading your work aloud or to a friend, this process often catches many errors. Requiment and the articles are all in the Additional materials.

The Swinging Women of Watteau and Fragonard
Author(s): Donald PosnerSource: The Art Bulletin, Vol. 64, No. 1 (Mar., 1982), pp. 75-88Published by: College Art AssociationStable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3050195 .Accessed: 03/11/2014 17:35Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact [email protected] .College Art Association is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The ArtBulletin.http://www.jstor.org
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When Penn’s Treaty was exhibited at the Royal
Academy in 1772, the painting was well received. Engravings
executed three years later by John Hall and published
by John Boydell were quite popular in England and
America. In the years that followed, a wide variety of
copies and reinterpretations made West’s epic painting
into an American icon.68 To understand the work’s
original message fully, however, one must look beyond
the William Penn legend. Because the painting suggested
the succession of Indian treaties and the problems of
Thomas Penn’s proprietorship, it spoke on many levels.
Peace had come to Pennsylvania in the early 1770’s. Friction
over elections, Indian raids, land transactions, and
even the campaign to unseat the proprietary government
appeared to have ended. The Penn family wanted to
strengthen its authority by suggesting that merchants,
Quakers, and Indians could now live and work without
dissension. West, therefore, used the familiar legend of
William Penn’s treaty to celebrate the return of peace to
Pennsylvania. Ironically, that peace would soon be
obliterated by a document written in Philadelphia only
five years later. Consequences of that Declaration would
virtually eradicate the disputes and differences of Penn’s
proprietary government. In the aftermath of the
revolutionary era, the initial meaning of West’s painting
would become shrouded by legend. Eventually it would
enter the annals of American lore as a symbol of those
tranquil Colonial days that had been blessed by decades of
peace and racial harmony.
National Museum of American Art
Smithsonian Institution
Washington, D.C. 20560
Bibliography
Galt, John, The Life, Studies and Work of Benjamin West, 2 vols. (London,
1820), repr. Gainesville, Fla., 1960.
Hanna, William S., Benjamin Franklin and Pennsylvania Politics, Stanford,
1964.
Hutson, James, Pennsylvania Politics 1746-1770, The Movement for
Royal Government and Its Consequences, Princeton, 1972.
Myers, Albert Cook, ed., William Penn’s Own Account of the Lenni
Lenape or Delaware Indians, Somerset, N.J., 1970.
Sellers, Charles Coleman, “The Beginning: A Monument to Probity,
Candor and Peace,” Symbols of Peace: William Penn’s Treaty with the
Indians, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 1976, n.p.
68 For an account of the exhibition at the Royal Academy, see Sellers, and
for the replicas of Penn’s Treaty, see Symbols of Peace (as in n. 3).
The Swinging Women of Watteau and Fragonard
Donald Posner
Everywhere and always women and girls must have enjoyed
the game of swinging, and they are seen on swings
in pictures or statues made in ancient Crete and Greece,
pre-Columbian Middle-America, the Near and Far East,
and postmedieval Europe. Occasionally children appear
on swings in art and, infrequently, men do too. Women
swinging are almost the rule, however, and nowhere and
at no time were they so much or so brilliantly depicted as
in eighteenth-century France.
Some years ago Hans Wentzel made a survey of swinging
scenes in Western art.’ He noted that that they virtually
disappeared during the medieval and Renaissance
periods, when they could not be absorbed very usefully
into the realms of religious and philosophical imagery that
dominated those times. After some antique examples of
the theme, he found none dating before the seventeenth
This paper was originally read in a slightly different form at the Art
Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, in 1975. Many people who heard it then or
later were interested and generous enough to call my attention to additional
literature and imagery concerning swinging, shoes, feet, or hats.
A few such items are cited in the notes below. Because most of them
seemed to confirm, without qualifying, my arguments, I have chosen to
maintain a semblance of brevity and not cite all of them. I hope I will not
therefore appear ungrateful; indeed, I would probably not be publishing
this paper were it not for the enthusiasm shown by friends and
colleagues, some of whom went to considerable trouble to send me
material related to swinging. I thank them all. I wish to single out for particular
thanks some people who worked with me or helped in
special ways at various stages in the research for the essay: Christine
Baltay; Kim de Beaumont; Robert Chambers; Mary Tavener Holmes;
Leslie Jones; Elizabeth Nicklas.
1 Wentzel, 187-218.
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76 THE ART BULLETIN MARCH 1982 VOLUME LXIV NUMBER 1
century, when swinging reappears, but mainly in prints
and, almost always, in emblematic contexts. These works
were not meant to convey the pleasures of the sport.
Instead, they show it in order to symbolize one of various
things or qualities: for example, the element of air (Fig. 6),
in which swinging takes place; or, because it is an aimless
activity that produces nothing tangible, “idleness”;2 or
again, because it involves constant going back and forth,
“inconstancy” or “fickleness.”3 An engraving made after
a now-lost painting by Watteau (Fig. 1) bears an expository
poem. The concluding verses tell us that though
the youth may use his every means to satisfy this girl, “he
will soon discover that she is too fickle for his liking.”4
It was at the beginning of the eighteenth century in
France that the woman on a swing started to appear
regularly in painting. Joseph Christophe painted the
theme as part of the redecoration undertaken at the
Versailles Menagerie in 1699, and Jacques van Schuppen
used it for a picture he exhibited in the Salon of 1704.s
Within a few years the woman swinging became one of
the established motifs in France for depictions of the
leisurely life. The main force in shaping its use was
Watteau and his followers.6
One has not often appreciated the extent to which many
fetes galantes and related images were iconographically
programmed. In fact, most were carefully constructed
from pictorial patterns and motifs that conveyed
narrative, psychological, or allegorical meanings. And
swinging, like many other everyday activities seen in art,
carried a varied freight of connotation and innuendo,
which we must understand and respond to if we are fully
to appreciate a group of pictures that includes several
masterpieces.
Women’s inconstancy in affairs of the heart was one of
the most popular associations made with swinging, which
in part explains why one rarely sees any but women on
swings in eighteenth-century art. Watteau’s Swing (Fig. 1)
does not convey the idea of inconstancy in pictorial terms,
but the poetaster who provided the text for the print after
it felt justified in his assumption about the woman’s temperament.
I think we can be sure that Watteau would have
expected as much. In more ambitious works where he
shows swinging, he weaves the idea of inconstancy into
the fabric of their content.
In the left background of the great painting called The
Shepherds (Fig. 2) a girl with her back to us is seen on a
swing. Her head is turned just slightly towards the young
man who accompanies her. Is she encouraging him or re-
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1 After Watteau, The Swing, engraving (photo: Metropolitan
Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert N. Straus, 1928)
jecting his overtures? The poor boy holds his arms open as
if uncertain whether to give her a push or to keep his distance.
Inconstancy, teasing changes of mind if not of
heart, is a large part of the flirting game. A swinging scene
in a painting by Pater that is based on Watteau’s composition
was explained in much this way in verses appended to
the 1739 print after the picture.7 In them the swinger is
contrasted to seated couples who supposedly exchange
heartfelt words of love; the girl on the swing prefers to
play. Pater’s painting has a pendant which incorporates a
2 Wentzel cites an example, 193, n. 10.
3 Ibid.
4 “Tel un Galant adroit met tout l’art en usage:/ Mais bient6t il la trouve
a son gr’ trop volage.”
For the painting see Rosenberg and Camesasca, No. 36.
5 Cf. P. Marcel, La Peinture frangaise au debut du dix-huitieme sikcle,
Paris, n.d., 267f.
6 Wentzel, 195, notes that Lancret represented the subject at least eight
times, and Pater nine times.
7For this painting and its pendant, and for the verses on the prints after
them, see Wallace Collection Catalogues, Pictures and Drawings, 16th
ed., London, 1968, 233f. Pater’s model may have been Watteau’s earlier
version of the composition at Chantilly (Rosenberg and Camesasca, No.
150).
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THE SWINGS OF WATTEAU AND FRAGONARD 77
2 Watteau, The
Shepherds. Berlin,
Charlottenburg
Castle (photo:
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varied form of Watteau’s dancers. The verses on the print
say that the dance was invented by Love to teach young
people its movements. The perfection of the dance is said
to be the union of happy youth.
These readings are not just poetic conceits superimposed
on realistic genre scenes. They elucidate meanings
or associations that must have been plain to the artist and
his audience, and that gave much of genre painting its
sense. Watteau’s Shepherds, even more obviously than
most of his works, is no transcription of any reality of
eighteenth-century life. It is an unlikely assembly he
shows, mixing rude, Rubensian peasants with elegant people
playing “pastoral.” But they compose a wonderfully
rich set of variations on the theme of love and desire.
Physical stimulus and desire inform the group alongside
the musician with a musette, an instrument whose phallic
form readily suggests its symbolism.8 The women display
voluptuous bosoms. A peasant seizes the woman beside
him, groping lustfully at a breast. The solitary youth gazes
at the couple dancing. The dog’s action is possibly meant
to suggest the boy’s state of arousal and longing; in any
event, the dog is an appropriate, if rather vulgar, symbolic
adjunct to the group.
In the other figures desire is seen as restrained,
shaped by civilized social activities. But the point is not in
the contrast of states so much as in the social coexistence
of the figures who experience them. Watteau has, in a
sense, turned a patch of countryside into a garden of love.
The musette player calls the tune and each member of the
company responds in his own way. Still, love has a
rhythm of development. It underlies the varied activity in
the picture. Love moves from shadowy beginnings in flirtation,
with its playful inconstancies, to the warm
quickening of desire, and, finally, to the sunny splendor
of happy union.
In another painting Watteau placed the woman on a
swing at center stage. The original of this work is lost, but
it is known from a print of 1732 entitled The Pleasures of
Summer (Fig. 3),9 a name that reflects an allegorical
association of swinging and the summer season.10
The theme here is also related to fickleness, now
based on the notion of the feminine will to waver
8 For musettes see R. D. Leppert, Arcadia at Versailles, Amsterdam, 1978,
esp. 59f. for an apt analysis of the erotic content of the Shepherds.
9 H. Adhemar (Watteau, Paris, 1950, 235, No. 246) attributed the composition
to Pater on the basis of its supposed similarity to pictures by that
master also called Les Agrements de l’ite. The similarity seems to
me remote, and the quality of the invention of the present work beyond
Pater’s powers.
The history of the original strongly supports the attribution to
Watteau. The painting was owned by Jean de Jullienne’s cousin, Claude
Glucq, who collected paintings and drawings by Watteau and who is
known to have owned a copy of Jullienne’s “Recueil” (which includes
Joullain’s print [Fig. 3]). The original seems traceable until 1788, and
the composition was never doubted before Adhemar. (For the picture’s
history and for Glucq, see E. Dacier and A. Vuaflart, Jean de Jullienne et
les graveurs de Watteau, Paris, 1922-29, I, 208f., III, 49, No. 102.)
10 Cf. Wentzel, 194, n. 10.
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78 THE ART BULLETIN MARCH 1982 VOLUME LXIV NUMBER 1
3 After Watteau,T he Pleasureso f Summer,e ngraving
(photo: Giraudon)
4 After Watteau, The Swinger (detail), engraving (photo:
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herbert N.
Straus, 1928)
between competing suitors. The swing in this picture
is the kind that is guided by being pulled instead of
pushed. Generally, when swings are pulled in eighteenthcentury
pictures, it is by one man working a rope attached
to one side of the swing, as shown, for example, in an
engraving after another design by Watteau (Fig. 4). One
suspects that this unbalanced method of swinging resulted
in rather giddy-making lateral oscillations, but it seems to
have been the favored method when the “pull principle”
was employed – on the grounds, no doubt, that one boy
should be sufficient to one girl. In The Pleasures of
Summer, however, the swing has two very noticeable
ropes, and the obvious suggestion is that the girl wants
two boys. One youth has already taken up a rope and
waits poised to pull. The girl waits too, and looks inquiringly
towards the not-yet romantically engaged group
at the right. There men outnumber women. Surely, one of
them will take up the other rope.
One must emphasize that in this picture, as in
Watteau’s Shepherds, the artist has not treated the swing
merely as an emblem; he has built the symbolic connotations
of the motif into the dramatic and narrative structure
of the scene. It is, of course, easy to see what is happening
in The Pleasures of Summer. When it is viewed, however,
in the light of the associations that the swing had for people
at the time, the scene acquires a special psychological
coloration. We sense the lovely excitement of the beginning
of a game of love: invitation and flirtation will be
followed by the playful vacillations of a young girl’s
heart; and the game will end, presumably, in a happy embrace,
like that of the couple at the lower left.
It would be wrong to insist too much on the connection
of the idea of inconstancy and the image of the swing, for
they were not always meant to go together. What is more
important to stress is that, with or without an allusion to
inconstancy, swinging in eighteenth-century French pictures,
with relatively few exceptions, is associated with
romantic or erotic feeling. Swinging was, of course, in real
life one of the pastimes of young lovers, and it is easy to
see that the passivity of the woman on the swing, and the
control exercised by the man in initiating and continuing
her ride made the image a natural metaphor for traditional
courtship behavior. In a charming painting by Nicolas
Lancret (Fig. 5) the boy slowly starts to draw the girl to
him. She does not resist, but she turns her head away
demurely and seems to blush slightly, as she allows him to
begin their game. Will she become fickle as she swings
back and forth, or will she surrender to him and let herself
be pushed, literally and figuratively, to ever greater
heights of pleasure? With this question we touch upon
another layer of meaning that is often found in pictures of
girls on swings.
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THE SWINGS OF WATTEAU AND FRAGONARD 79
5 Lancret, The Swing. London, Victoria and Albert Museum
(photo: Museum)
7 After Watteau, The Swinger (detail), engraving (photo:
MetropolitanM useumo f Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. HerbertN .
Straus, 1928)
6 H. Bonnart,
Air, engraving
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Swinging not only quickens the amorous heartbeat; it
even more obviously sets the body in rhythmic motion.
Naturally, it came to serve as a quite specific erotic
metaphor. On a print made at the very end of the seventeenth
century, where the girl on a swing is presented as
an emblem of the element of “Air” (Fig. 6), some verses
tell us that the girl riding through the air makes one think
right off of “other” movements. The poet who commented
on the fickleness of the girl in the print after Watteau’s
Swing (Fig. 1) also alluded, by double-entendres in his
first verse, to the specifically sexual symbolism of swinging.
He speaks of the youth who “excites and stimulates”
the girl, and who watches her become ever more
“buoyant” under the pressure of his urgings.” That
Watteau himself had such connotations in mind is indicated
by the symbols of lasciviousness with which he ornamented
the design: the bagpipe and satyr’s head at the
bottom, and the goat and ram heads at the top and on the
vases in the lower corners. In another picture showing a
youth swinging a girl (Fig. 7), Watteau made his meaning
equally clear by setting the scene alongside a leering statue
of the god Priapus, seen among the trees at the right. He
also placed a branch of a tree across the statue in such a
way that it calls attention to what it hides. Swinging as
symbolically synonymous with lovemaking eventually
became established in the popular culture of the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the meaning has
persisted into our time.12
After Watteau, swinging women began to appear with
some frequency in French art and, as a result of French in-
“1 “Au Jeu d’Escarpolette, Acis voit sa Bergere/ Prendre d’un air dispos,
ses innocens Ebas: / Ii l’Excite, il l’anime, il l’aide de ses Bras; / Trop content
de la voir encore plus legere.”
12 Fuchs, Biirgerliche Zeit, ii, 177f., 260f. for the 19th century. Among
the 20th-century examples I know of is the comment of Bertold Brecht
that “being on a swing [is] as beautiful as making love” (Time Magazine,
August 9, 1971, 62); and the use of a swinging scene in a recent advertisement
for Conceptrol Birth Control Cream (independently brought to
my attention by Mr. Robert Baldwin and Professor Walter Cahn).
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80 THE ART BULLETIN MARCH 1982 VOLUME LXIV NUMBER 1
8 Fragonard, Blindman’s Buff. Washington, National Gallery of
Art Samuel H. Kress Collection (photo: National Gallery)
9 Fragonard, The Swing. Washington, National Gallery of Art
Samuel H. Kress Collection (photo: National Gallery)
fluence, they entered the arts elsewhere in Europe.13 Some
works, like Lancret’s Swing (Fig. 5), elaborated on the imagery,
but none showed a quality or originality of conception
comparable to Watteau’s Shepherds or Pleasures of
Summer until Fragonard’s women swung onto the artistic
scene.
Fragonard made three paintings of women on swings,
and one that shows a girl on a similar vehicle, a
seesaw. What might be called the most innocent of the
group in appearance is the large picture in the National
Gallery in Washington (Fig. 9). The figures are very small
in this sweeping view from a height. The clouds rise into
the brilliant expanse of the heavens. As the woman rides
on a swing attached high in the trees above her and waves
to her companions – one of whom, at the right, looks into
the limpid distance through a telescope – we are reminded
that swinging was allegorically attached to the element of
air. Indeed, this ethereal view of open sky and limitless
horizons seems the perfect context for the symbolic expression
of “air.” But the picture is also about love and
romance. It shows a fete galante, and its specific meaning
only becomes clear in relation to what goes on in its
companion piece, Blindman’s Buff (Fig. 8).14
In this painting a group is at play at the left. A
blindfolded girl reaches out, trying to tag and identify
another player. A man, presumably her boyfriend, is on
his hands and knees, hiding, but keeping close to the girl.
He is hard to see in photographs. The game of blindman’s
buff appears in art as early as medieval times, when it was
probably meant to symbolize the folly of love.15 In the
13 Two German examples are mentioned in n. 37 below. For another by
Norbert Grund, see the reference given in n. 10 above.
The subject seems to have been introduced into England by the expatriate
French artist Philip Mercier in one of his earliest conversation
pieces, Viscount Tyrconnel with His Family, which is strongly influenced
by Watteau and his circle (cf. M. Praz, Conversation Pieces, University
Park [Pa.], 1971, 138, fig. 99), but probably, because of the romantic,
even erotic, vein of meaning associated with swinging scenes, the activity
was considered improper for representing adults in portraits of family
groups. In fact, I know of only one other English conversation piece that
shows anyone swinging, Zoffany’s Children of the Fourth Duke of
Devonshire (see Treasures from Chatsworth; the Devonshire
Inheritance, exh. cat., Washington, D.C., 1979-80, No. 276, pl. 8.
Professor David Young brought this picture to my attention.) Not comparable,
but perhaps sufficient indication of the meaning of the motif at
the time, are two pornographic works by Rowlandson showing people on
swings (see G. Schiff, The Amorous Illustrations of Thomas
Rowlandson, n.p., 1969, pls. 17, 33).
14 Good color illustrations of both Washington pictures, including two
details, appear in D. Wildenstein and G. Mandel, L’Opera completa di
Fragonard, Milan, 1972, pls. LII-LV.
15 C. Eisler, Paintings from the Samuel H. Kress Collection. European
Schools Excluding Italian, Oxford, 1977, 329f. See also S. Hindman,
“Pieter Bruegel’s Children’s Games, Folly, and Chance,” Art Bulletin,
LXIII1, 981, 451f., 455, 466ff., for blindman’s buff as a courtship game
as well as “folly.”
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THE SWINGS OF WATTEAU AND FRAGONARD 81
10 FragonardB, lindman’s Buff. Toledo,M useumo f Art (photo:
Museum)
11 Fragonard, The Seesaw. Lugano, Thyssen-Bornemisza
Collection (photo: Brunel)
eighteenth century the meaning of the image changed less
than the attitude towards that meaning. Society had
become less censorious, readier to accept certain things as
they are: like youth and love. Love indeed is blind, and
probably a little mad. The young heart gropes, feels its
way anxiously in search of a partner. Fragonard underscored
the theme of youthful, innocent desire in this
picture by ornamenting the fountain at the left with
figures of vestal virgins, and by placing the scene under
the watchful presence (on the terrace at the upper right) of
a statue of Minerva, whose festival was marked by a
procession of virgins.16 In the sequel to this picture,
maidenly desire is transformed, in another game, into
womanly fulfillment. The lady now has a partner, who
gives her a ride. He is just visible between the two lion
fountains.17 With a flower in her hand she waves to signal
the happy finale of her love as she soars on the swing into
the sky.
The Washington pictures are primarily evocations of
the beauty of the Italian landscape,18 and the symbolism of
figural activity in them is unemphatic. The games appear
as passing incidents during a day devoted to the enjoyment
of nature. In a pair of earlier figure paintings,
however, Fragonard has made an obvious and boisterous
presentation of the symbolism of the juxtaposed themes of
blindman’s buff and that close analogue of swinging,
seesawing. ‘9
The two pictures (Figs. 10, 11) were executed in the
16 Ovid, Metamorphoses ii. 711f. Eisler (as in n. 15) suggests that the
austerity of the vestals is meant as a contrast to the folly of the players. I
think such an intention would be out of character for Fragonard and for
18th-century French culture in general.
17 The woman’s swing has two ropes. The far one is held by a seated
woman, who, rather like a “bride’s maid,” assists in the proceedings. The
man, however, is in charge.
18 It is generally assumed that the paintings were in the Abbe de Saint-
Non’s collection. If so, they were described as “paysage d’Italie” or “vue
de Tyvoli” (Eisler, as in n. 15, 331). The date of the pictures is debatable.
I should place them towards 1780.
19 Before Fragonard, blindman’s buff and swinging were used by Lancret
as subjects for a beautiful pair of pictures now in the Stockholm
Nationalmuseum. See Wildenstein, 1924, Nos. 229, 233, figs. 53, 54.
The seesaw, incidentally, though often virtually synonymous with the
swing in its symbolic sexual content (cf. Fuchs, Galante Zeit, I, 175; I1,
62), is seen in nonerotic contexts perhaps more frequently than the
swing.
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82 THE ART BULLETIN MARCH 1982 VOLUME LXIV NUMBER 1
early 1750’s, when Fragonard was only in his twenties and
still painting in the style of his teacher Boucher.20 They are
at once scenes of a young couple’s romance on a summer
day and allegories of two stages in the universal adventure
of love. Instead of the elegant city people who enjoy
parkland pleasures in the Washington pictures, we see a
country lad and lass, accompanied by playful children, in
a rustic setting. It is a day for a picnic and for flirtatious
games. The couple begins by playing at blindman’s buff.
The game is a pretence. Since only two grownups play, the
girl knows she can only catch the young man. She reaches
out happily in search of him. He helps her to locate him by
tickling her cheek with a straw. Of course, young people
eventually find a mate and then, naturally, enjoy their
happy union. In the second picture we see the romantic
climax of the day. The couple has constructed a makeshift
seesaw. A log on a stone block serves as the fulcrum for
the board on which the girl rides. A bottle of wine and an
array of ripe fruits, traditional symbols of love and sensual
enjoyment, lie in front of the seesaw. The youth, aided by
cupid-like infants, bears down on one end of the plank. It
is Love that lifts its object to heights of pleasure. The girl,
in her excitement, almost loses her balance and seizes a
branch to steady herself as she rises exuberantly into the
air on the long plank – which one child straddles
suggestively. This mischievous visual pun was almost certainly
intended by the artist, who does such things in other
pictures too.2’
In these early works Fragonard already displayed the
ready inventiveness of visual imagination that was to
produce, in time, such triumphs as The Swing of 1767 in
the Wallace Collection (Fig. 12).22 This work is probably
the most popular of all Fragonard’s paintings, and it is
surely the most famous picture of a swinger in the history
of art. It has acquired an even exaggerated fame insofar as
some writers have presented it as the quintessential expression
of the pleasure-loving, licentious spirit of the
ancien rigime.23 Yet, aside from pointing to the prettily
naughty conceit of the man in the bushes looking under
the skirts of the swinging girl, no one has really explained
the special appeal of the painting. Wentzel tried to locate it
in the “naturalism” with which the artist communicated
the pleasure of swinging.24 But this is not only a lame explanation,
it is also erroneous, since, as will become clear,
there is nothing at all naturalistic about this highly contrived
representation. I think the problem is that until very
recently the mores of art-historical criticism made it difficult
really to think about, much less write about, the
joyous sexuality of the picture’s imagery. I believe,
however, that spectators have always responded to that
imagery, even without being entirely aware of doing so.
We are fortunate in knowing a little about the circumstances
in which Fragonard’s Swing originated, for
they were discussed in a conversation that the writer
Charles
Coll0
had with the painter Gabriel-Francois
Doyen on October 2, 1767.
Coll0
recorded the conversation
in his journal the same month:25
“Would you believe,” the painter said to me, “that just
a few days after the exhibition of my picture [the
Miracle of Saint Genevieve des Ardents] in the Salon, a
gentleman of the Court sent for me in order to commission
a painting of the kind that I’ll describe? This gentleman
was at his ‘pleasure house’ [petite maison] with
his mistress when I presented myself to find out what
he wanted. He started by flattering me with courtesies
20 Our understanding of these two works has been clouded by A.
Ananoff’s recent publication, in his Francois Boucher, Lausanne-Paris,
1976, II, 9f., of material related to them which implies that they are copies
of two pictures from a suite of four painted by Boucher in collaboration
with Fragonard. Several writers have already commented on the questions
that this material raises (cf. A. Rosenbaum, Old Master Paintings
from the Collection of Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza, Washington, D.C.,
1979, 139). I have myself not had the opportunity to study the originals
of the works introduced by Ananoff, but I suspect, first, that his fig. 902
was not originally related to the other works, and, second, that his figs.
904 and 906 postdate the Toledo and Lugano paintings. I should add,
however, that the meaning of Fragonard’s pictures, as propounded here,
could easily be accommodated by the putative four-part suite.
21 Cf. D. Posner, “The True Path of Fragonard’s ‘Progress of Love,”‘
Burlington Magazine, cxiv, 1972, 530, n. 22.
22 The title, “The Happy Accidents of the Swing,” comes from the
engraving after the picture made by N. de Launay in 1782.
23 E.g., E. Hildebrandt, Antoine Watteau, Berlin, 1922, 154.
24 His conclusion about the picture, which he had printed in italic type (p.
210): “Nie vor ihm, nie nach ihm ist das jugendlich unbekiimmerte
Vergniigen, auf einer Schaukel durch die Luft zu fliegen, so eindringlich,
so deutlich, so voller Lebensfreude und vor allem so nattirlich dargestellt
worden!”
25 Journal et memoires de Charles Colle [ed. H. Bonhomme], iii, Paris,
1868, 165f. The passage is conveniently reprinted in the several editions
of the Goncourts’ biography of the artist (L’Art du XVlle sikcle). My
translation in the text above is reasonably literal.
Colle’s entry and the events it records are frequently dated to 1766, an
error that seems to go back to the Goncourts and that has become deeply
and inexplicably rooted in the literature. Wentzel, in what he presents as
a translation of Colle’s text, (207, n. 35) actually interposes a reference to
1766 that does not exist in the original. Colle’s account is dated October
1767 and is prefaced by a paragraph (omitted by the Goncourts) that
names the exact day of his conversation with Doyen and that fixes the
year of the commission for The Swing:
Je suis revenu a Paris le 1er de ce mois. Le lendemain de mon arriv&ej e
rencontrai M. Doyen, peintre, dont un tableau … vient d’etre expose
dans le Salon du mois d’aofit dernier [Salon exhibitions occurred every
other year, in odd years; hence there was no Salon in 1766], et il a
remporte le prix. Le sujet de ce tableau est saint Genevieve des
Ardents. …
Strangely, the 1968 edition of the Wallace Collection catalogue (as in n.
7), p. 118, gives the correct date for Colle’s entry, but adds, apparently on
the authority of Portalis’s 1889 monograph on Fragonard, that the picture
was painted in 1768 or 1769. Since the small picture (32 5/8″ X 26″)
was, according to Colle, in progress already in October 1767, it seems unlikely
that it was not finished by 1768 at the very latest.
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THE SWINGS OF WATTEAU AND FRAGONARD 83
12 Fragonard, The Swing. London,
Wallace Collection (photo: Wallace
Collection)
and finished by avowing that he was dying with a desire
to have me make a picture, the idea of which he was going
to outline. ‘I should like,’ he continued, ‘to have you
paint Madame (pointing to his mistress) on a swing that
a bishop would set going. You will place me in such a
way that I would be able to see the legs of this lovely
girl, and better still, if you want to enliven your picture
a little more. …”‘ “I confess,” M. Doyen said to me,
“that this proposition, which I wouldn’t have expected,
considering the character of the picture that led to it,
perplexed me and left me speechless for a moment. I
collected myself, however, enough to be able to say to
him almost at once: ‘Ah! Monsieur, it is necessary to
add to the essential idea of your picture by making
Madame’s shoes fly into the air and having some cupids
catch them.’ But since I was far from wanting to treat
such a subject, which is so different from the genre in
which I work, I referred this gentleman to M. Fagonat
[sic], who has undertaken it and is at present making
this singular work.”26
This report informs us of some of the original terms of
the commission. Evidently, the patron had additional ideas
for “enlivening” the picture either that Doyen did not tell
26 It does seem odd that Doyen should have been offered this commission.
A probable explanation is that in private life Doyen was something
of a roue. See Wildenstein, 1960, 13, n. 3.
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84 THE ART BULLETIN MARCH 1982 VOLUME LXIV NUMBER 1
to Coll or that Coll did not bother to write down.
Whether, and how much, Fragonard contributed to the
ideation of the picture we cannot know, but of course his
genius is responsible for the effectiveness of its visual formulation.
There was, for instance, nothing new about men
in pictures peeping at women’s legs accidentally revealed.
It is a motif frequently found, for example, in paintings by
Pater, in at least one instance in connection with a swinging
scene. 27 Fragonard’s patron may well have had Pater’s
composition in mind when he concocted the program for
his picture. Unlike Pater, however, who designed a voyeur
who merely steals a look at the woman’s charms from a
suitable vantage point, Fragonard conceived a figure who
sees and responds, who expresses breathless excitement
and, as we shall see, still more.28
The Swing is a far more highly programmed painting
than is generally realized. The setting – staging is perhaps
the better word – is calculated to carry specific meanings
and so admits some naturalistic improbabilities. First
of all, one doesn’t swing in places like the one shown.
There is hardly space for the swing, and the spot is so
overgrown that it looks positively unsafe for swinging.
But the artist wanted to establish a mood of tremulous excitement
by the dense twisting and turning of trees and
bushes, and by the sparkling activity of leaves shimmering
silver in the blue-green atmosphere of what at first seems a
forest glade. It is not, in fact, a forest, but a bit of garden
that Fragonard has represented. Some low wicker fences
used to mark borders are seen at the bottom of the picture,
where there is also a rake. These and the sculptures are
evidence that this is cared-for, protected property. Still,
the look of a forest is clearly deliberate. I think it probable
that Fragonard was inspired by Watteau’s Pleasures of
Summer (Fig. 3), where swinging takes place in a similar,
if far more naturalistic, setting. Fragonard must have
recognized that an image of nature’s luxuriance and fertility
would make an appropriate context for his amorous
swinging scene too. Furthermore, the density and
thickness of nature’s growth seem to screen the figures
and suggest a secret place for this curious lovers’ tryst.
The idea of something secret is made explicit by the cupid
on the pedestal at the left. Fragonard has shown Falconet’s
famous sculpture of 1757. In the garden of our swinger
Cupid commands silence as he watches Love’s work being
done.
Cupid’s silencing gesture is readily understood to mean
that the relationship between the main figures is to be hidden
from the elderly gentleman in the right background
who controls the swing. According to Coll6, Fragonard’s
patron told Doyen that he wanted a bishop to push the
swing. The patron was evidently the Baron de Saint-
Julien,29 whose official position as Receiver-General of the
French Clergy explains the conceit that his mistress
comes to him as a kind of offering from a bishop.
Many writers assume that the old man in the picture is a
bishop, but in fact he does not wear ecclesiastical costume
and cannot be identified as a clergyman of any rank. He
was transformed into an unwitting husband or an ineffective
guardian,30 apparently in the course of a larger decision
to depersonalize the picture. Saint-Julien’s idea to
have himself and his mistress portrayed – recognizably,
one assumes – was also abandoned, and in the final work
the main actors are generalized types of young lovers and
do not seem identifiable as specific persons. It is likely that
Saint-Julien came to feel that the painting he had in mind
was a little too irreverent, even in his libertine times. The
changes were probably for the best; the picture escaped
the limitations to comprehension and appreciation that a
private joke would have imposed, and it developed into a
universal image of the joy and gaiety of young love.
Love and the rising tide of passion is the theme. It is
stated by the sculptural group of a dolphin and two cupids
riding the waves that appears like an emblem in the middle
of the lower section of the painting. Because dolphins
driven by cupids draw the water-chariot of Venus, they
appear in art to denote the impatient surge of love.
Boucher, for example, used the motif in a scene of
Pomona’s seduction by Vertumnus,31 and Fragonard used
it again very aptly in The Pursuit, the second painting in
his “Progress of Love” series in the Frick Collection.32
27 One version of the composition is in the StAidelsches Kunstinstitut,
Frankfurt (illustrated in Wentzel, fig. 148, and in Ingersoll-Smouse, fig.
149). Another version was recently on the art market (see Apollo, cx,
Nov. 1979, advertisements, 28).
28 One cannot emphasize too much the quality of Fragonard’s work in
giving shape to the imagery, and in this connection it is instructive to
compare his Swing to a picture of the same subject attributed to Lancret
(Wildenstein, 1924, No. 237, fig. 192), where many of the same elements
are present: a swinger, a man guiding the swing with a rope, a dog, a man
looking at the girl’s legs while he reclines on the ground, his arm upraised.
If by Lancret, the picture must have been known to Fragonard or
his patron. But I think that this painting, the earliest known reference to
which is in a sales catalogue of 1891, is a 19th-century imitation of Lancret
that builds on elements from Fragonard’s picture. The original
painting has disappeared, however, and it is not possible to judge it from
the illustration in Wildenstein’s monograph. Still, whatever the truth
about the picture, it very neatly demonstrates how the iconographic
program given to Fragonard could have been fulfilled without the
slightest hint of the sensuousness and allusive richness of design of the
Wallace Collection painting.
29 Saint-Julien was not named as the patron by Doyen as far as we know.
The painting was, however, in his collection, and the iconographic conceit
was so perfectly appropriate to his position that his patronage seems
beyond question.
30 R. Neville (“Jean Honore Fragonard,” Burlington Magazine, III, 1903,
56) already noted that the figure is not a bishop but an “ordinary individual.”
Recently, D. Wakefield (Fragonard, London, 1976, 9, 19) interprets
this figure as a “husband.” I think Wakefield is wrong when he
proposes that this husband cheerfully and knowingly helps his wife to
deceive him. M. Starobinski (The Invention of Liberty, Geneva, 1964,
76) refers to the figure as the “obscure accomplice in the background.”
Wentzel (p. 208f.), assuming that the rake in the foreground belongs to
this figure, concludes that he is a gardener. His dress and activity,
however, exclude such a possibility.
31 Ananoff (as in n. 20), II, 25, fig. 952. Watteau also used the motif. Cf.
Rosenberg and Camesasca, Nos. 82, 110.
32 Posner (as in n. 21), 530, fig. 19.
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THE SWINGS OF WATTEAU AND FRAGONARD 85
In the Wallace Collection picture the woman, as she
rides towards the young gallant, leaves the shadowed corner
where the old man sits. The suggestion of a change of
location, of a move from one domain to another, is forcefully
made by the picture’s compositional and tonal
movement, and it is underscored by the detail of the dog
and small fence at the lower right. The dog barks at his
mistress as if to call her back. The dog is fenced in; the
woman flies over the fence where her heart is drawn.
Among the elements that take on symbolic meaning in
The Swing is the general quality of the color and light in
the picture. What is suggested in the painting is the cool
blue light of early evening.33 Now swinging is usually
associated in art with the heat of summer and the bright
sunlight of mid-afternoon, when the refreshing breeze
that the activity creates is most appreciated. Watteau’s
Pleasures of Summer (Fig. 3) suggests to us a shady refuge
in the woods at the height of a summer day. By changing
the traditional hour of the game, Fragonard suppressed
the naturalistic content of the theme and amplified its
symbolic character. Swinging here is emphatically
associated with activities that mostly occur after the sun
goes down.34
Beneath the swinger, lying in a great bush, a tangle of
leaves and roses, is a young man. The bush is, as it were, a
private place, enclosed by little fences. But the man has
found his way into it. The symbolic allusions are too obvious
to require comment. As the man thrills to the sight
offered him, he reaches out with his hat in his hand. It
seems odd, under the circumstances, that he should be encumbered
by a hat. Well-dressed gentlemen neither wearing
nor holding hats appear in outdoor scenes in other
works by Fragonard (Figs. 8 and 9, for example), so it cannot
be that the artist considered it a requisite part of
costuming. Certainly Fragonard did not include the dark
gray hat for compositional or coloristic reasons. Evidently
he intended it to mean something. At one level the man
can be understood as doffing his hat in a show of appreciation
of the lady’s charms. But his attitude is appreciative
enough by itself, and the hat, rather than just
being a redundant flourish, is, I think, a discrete symbolic
unit.
A hat is a covering, and in eighteenth-century imagery
it does not only cover heads. In Fragonard’s amusing
etching of 1778, The Wardrobe (Fig. 13), a girl’s furious
parents have discovered that their daughter, properly in
tears now, has been up to no good. They have found her
boyfriend’s hiding place. As he steps out of it, even more
embarrassed than fearful, his hat seems indispensable.
Anonymous, popular prints of the period tend to be
grosser and more explicit in using a hat as an erotic symbol
or accessory. In one print, entitled The Cage and the Bird
(Fig. 14), a man conceals the “bird” with his hat as he
stands before a waiting woman who holds an open cage in
her lap.35 The bawd in the background and the basket of
overturned flowers on the barrel in the center of the room
complete this symbolic brothel scene. The man in the picture,
and the youth in The Wardrobe, have their hats
“on,” so to speak. They represent, respectively, “before”
and “after” the sexual engagement. Fragonard’s man in
the bush has his hat “off.” This symbolic usage has a
precedent in a painting that Fragonard certainly knew,
The Lovers Surprised (Fig. 15), a work that Baudouin,
Boucher’s son-in-law, exhibited in the Salon of 1765, and
that was engraved in 1767, the year of The Swing. In
Baudouin’s picture the girl’s mother has arrived just in
time to interrupt an action already begun. She angrily upbraids
the girl who stands in a bed of trampled hay. At the
left, the girl’s lover pulls at his breeches while fleeing up a
flight of stairs. Fragonard’s later Wardrobe possibly took
some of its inspiration from Baudouin’s composition,
while his symbolic use of the hat in The Swing may have
been suggested by the hat that Baudouin’s young man
removed and that is pointedly displayed at the lower left in
his picture.36
The feminine counterpart of the man’s hat, in The
Swing and in other paintings of the period, is the woman’s
shoe. The charming detail of the pink shoe flying off a
pretty foot has mostly been thought just that and no more.
Wentzel even tried to give it a naturalistic interpretation,
33Wentzel (p. 210) describes the scene as taking place in “ein dunkler
Wald, blaugriin, ja abendlich blau.” He remarks, too, that the sun in the
picture seems very low.
34 For his Night in a series of the “Times of Day” (engraved by E. de
Ghendt) Baudouin used a setting very similar to Fragonard’s, including
the statue of Cupid. He shows, however, not swinging, but an unambiguous
scene of lovers embracing. Interestingly, Baudouin’s original
gouache, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York, was apparently
owned by Saint-Julien. (See E. Bocher, Les Gravures frangaises du XVIIIe
siecle, s.v. “Baudouin,” Paris, 1875, No. 35.)
35 Fuchs, Galante Zeit, II, opp. 104, illustrates another anonymous print,
where a girl holding a basket of eggs reaches behind a hat held by a
young man. The print is captioned “Qu’en Pensez-vous?”
36 Another “hat off” appears in Fig. 17. See my comments below. There
is also a man’s hat below the players in Watteau’s Swing (Fig. 1). Recently,
C. Seerveld, in discussing this design, correctly recognized the emblematic
character of the combination of bagpipes and doffed hat with
the “abandoned silken shawl, flanked by a tipping basket of flowers.”
(“Telltale Statues in Watteau’s Painting,” Eighteenth-Century Studies,
xiv, 1980/81, 155.) Any doubts that the hat is a man’s are allayed by a
comparison with Watteau’s Le Denicheur de moineaux (Rosenberg and
Camesasca, No. 71, pl. II). An Italian example is provided by a painting
by Crespi in The Hermitage, where there is a hat on the ground between
the legs of man who thrusts himself upon a woman whose shoe has fallen
off her foot. (M. Liebmann, Giuseppe Maria Crespi, Dresden, 1976, pl.
11.) A 16th-century example occurs in an engraving by H. S. Beham (B.
176), where a peasant couple embrace. The man puts his hand under the
woman’s skirt and between her legs. In front of the figures, in the center
foreground, is his hat. It is not certain, however, that the hat was meant
symbolically, since most of Beham’s male lovers keep their hats on while
pursuing their amours.
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86 THE ART BULLETIN MARCH 1982 VOLUME LXIV NUMBER 1
13 Fragonard,T he Wardrobee, tching (photo: Metropolitan
Museum of Art, Purchase, Roland L. Redmond Gift, Louis V.
Bell and Rogers Fund, 1972)
14 The Cage and
the Bird (from
Fuchs, Galante
Zeit, 11, 86)
reasoning that “in all times women on swings probably
lost a shoe easily.””3 That the motif has a symbolic meaning,
and the kind of meaning it is, seems clear, however,
from the fact that it was originally proposed by Doyen as a
witty addition to an idea for a risque picture. It is clear too,
both from the speed with which the thought occurred to
Doyen and from the fact that apparently neither Saint-
Julien nor Coll needed to have it explained, that the motif
15 After Baudouin, The Lovers Surprised, engraving (photo:
Bibliotheque Nationale)
was a current and perfectly comprehensible one.
Possibly in the course of discussions between Saint-
Julien and Fragonard it was decided to have the woman
kick off one shoe, not two as Doyen had suggested, and
to replace the real cupids with a statue, which would
watch, not catch, the shoe. The single shoe and naked foot
speak plainly enough. There are many French pictures of
the period where an unshod foot is seen in a context that
leaves no doubt about its meaning. In a print by
Debucourt (Fig. 16), for instance, a milkmaid stands
alongside a youth and weeps. She holds a broken pitcher,
a familiar symbol of lost virginity. As if to underscore the
point, she also has one bare foot. The missing shoe is in
the hay, at the right, where she lost it. Another example is
in a print (Fig. 17)38 in which, one might say, the action
begun in The Lovers Surprised (Fig. 15) has been allowed
to run its course before the parental discovery is made. At
the upper right an old man, evidently the girl’s father,
37 P. 199, n. 17. Wentzel was particularly puzzled by his discovery that in
a swinging scene by Norbert Grund (his fig. 150), who worked in Prague
and whose picture is clearly unrelated compositionally to Fragonard’s
Swing, the woman on the swing also drops a shoe. Oddly, he did not
notice that in still another swinging scene that he illustrated (fig. 149),
this one by Anna Therbusch and datable 1741, the lady again loses her
shoe. Both paintings were strongly influenced by French art and their use
of the “lost shoe” motif confirms its currency in France at the time. In
these pictures the motif is not so sexually charged as in Fragonard’s
Swing, but its amorous meanings are quite clear. In Grund’s painting the
woman, who has dropped her shoe, watches a gentleman pick it up. In
Therbusch’s painting a man has been swinging a lady, when suddenly a
rival snatches the guiding rope from his hand. The lady looks at the newcomer
and lets her shoe fall off.
38 The print was published by Fuchs as after Baudouin. It is not listed in
Bocher’s catalogue (as in n. 34) and I have not located an impression of
the original.
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THE SWINGS OF WATTEAU AND FRAGONARD 87
16 Debucourt, The Broken Pitcher, color acquatint (photo:
Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Laurent Sully Jaulmes)
holds his head in shock and chagrin. The young man
dresses. His hat is off. It lies on the floor in front of the
chair and is filled with flowers that have tumbled into it.
One of the girl’s feet is bare. She looks ruefully at the
symbolic shoe.
The motif of the shoeless feminine foot appears most
frequently in eighteenth-century art, but it occurs much
earlier too. In the sixteenth century it is found as an attribute
of a whore in a Netherlandish painting of the
Prodigal Son in a brothel.39 Farther back in time, a
17 After Baudouin?, Remorse after the Deed, engraving (from
Fuchs, Galante Zeit, 11, 125)
Romanesque relief sculpture at Santiago de Compostella
shows a lewd woman holding a cock between her legs; she
has one bare and one shod foot.40 In these works the absence
of a shoe reveals the iniquity of the woman without
it. In the pictures by Debucourt and Baudouin it explains
the nature of the women’s misbehavior. In Fragonard’s
39 The picture, which Mary Tavener Holmes kindly brought to my attention,
is in the museum in Basel and is illustrated in J. De Coo, “Die
Bemalten Holtzteller,” Wallraf-RichartJz ahrbuch, xxxvii, 1975, 93.
Titian uses the motif in a very original way in his Rape of Lucretia
(Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge). The heroine’s feet are bare, and one
of her slippers is placed prominently in the right foreground. It speaks of
the sexual nature of the violence being done, and of her loss of purity,
though not of any iniquity by her.
40 This image and the closely related famous relief from St.-Sernin in
Toulouse showing two cross-legged women with a lion and a ram are discussed
in W. Weisbach, “‘Ein Fuss beschuht, der andere nackt.’
Bemerkungen zu einigen Handzeichnungen des Urs Graf,” Zeitschrift
fiur SchweizerischeA rchaeologieu nd Kunstgeschichte,I v, 1942, 120.
The women from Toulouse also have one shoeless foot each and represent,
in Weisbach’s view, “sinfulness and hellishness.” (I am grateful to
M. Philippe Verdier for the reference to this article. The Urs Graf drawings
mentioned in the title relate to a different, nonerotic set of meanings
for shoe- or socklessness.) This meaning of the unshod foot was still
current in France at the end of the 17th century, when Robert Bonnart
made a print of Lust showing a woman with one shoe off. (Mary Tavener
Holmes kindly told me about the print, an impression of which is in the
Bibliotheque Nationale, Ed. 114 [in-fol.] No. 80.) The survival of this imagery
into our own time is represented by the advertisement that Mr.
Kim Whiteside designed in 1978 for the musical comedy, The Best Little
Whorehouse in Texas. A pair of female legs is seen emerging from the
map outline of the Lone Star State. One leg kicks upwards and a shoe
falls off. Mr. Whiteside told me he had no special meaning in mind.
I do not wish here to discuss the antiquity of the symbolism of shod
and unshod feet, or its psychological and folkloristic bases. Interested
readers may wish to consult W. Deonna, “Aphrodite, la femme et la sandale,”
Revue internationale de la sociologie, xLIv, 1936, 5-63; Dr.
Aigremont,F uss- und Schuh-Symboliku nd -Erotik:F olkloristischue nd
sexuel-wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen, Leipzig, 1909; and Vol. xxvI
(1936) of Aesculape, which includes articles on foot symbolism in 18thcentury
art and culture. (I owe these references respectively to Miss Carol
Eliel, Professor Anne Lowenthal, and Mr. Robert Baldwin.)
One additional point should be noted here. Insofar as the female foot is
identified with the vagina (as in the saying “petit pied, grand con,” on
which Brant6me comments in his discussion of women’s feet in the third
essay of his Vies des dames galantes [Eng. ed., London, 1961, 209]), the
shoe, like the man’s hat, is a covering.
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88 THE ART BULLETIN MARCH 1982 VOLUME LXIV NUMBER 1
18 Fragonard, The Small Swing. Private collection
painting the motif has no moral connotation. His happy
lady bestows her shoe – her favors – readily for the sake
of love,41 and the artist records it as a symbol of an amorous
decision or occurrence. But the flying shoe is something
more still. It signals the moment of the event, and characterizes
its quality, the thrill, the joyousness, of sudden, inevitable
surrender to love.
In Fragonard’s Swing the verbal and visual content of
symbols coincide, and amplify one another. This, I believe,
accounts for its extraordinary distinction and riveting appeal.
In other swinging scenes the motifs are meaningful,
but the visual presentation suggests little more than an innocent,
everyday pastime. Visually, Fragonard’s Swing is
intensely charged with the same erotic content that its
symbolic motifs proclaim. Indeed, a straightforward
description of what one sees proves to be almost embarrassingly
frank: the woman is in motion, her legs are
parted, her pink dress opens. The man is in the rose bush,
hat off, arm erect and well-aimed. And suddenly, to her
own delight, as she reaches the peak of her ride, the
woman’s shoe flies off her foot.
The Wallace Collection picture has no rivals among
swinging scenes in the eighteenth century. The artist’s
own large painting in Washington (Fig. 9) is an undoubted
masterpiece, but it is only incidentally about swinging.
One other work by Fragonard, the so-called Small Swing
(Fig. 18),42 probably made in the mid- or late seventies, is a
very fine, but relatively modest effort. Its interest for us
comes mainly from the new emotional tone that pervades
it.
The Swing of 1767 is gay, ebullient, “rococo”; the Small
Swing is subdued, warm, and full of incipient romantic
sensibility. In the later painting the company is made up
mostly of women. Richly dressed, they are gathered round
a fountain-pool ornamented with sculptured dolphins and
some cupids on a pedestal, one of whom is seemingly
about to shoot an arrow, but not at anyone in particular.
Here, in the shade and protection of the dense, leafy walls
of an arbor, one woman swings. Another woman seems to
call to her as she reaches up to push the swing, while still
others sit and watch. There is no flirtation, no play with
shoes or flowers. Unlike the swinging scenes that have
been discussed before, it is not an anecdotal situation, but
a mood that dominates this picture. The swing here,
however, no less than in other pictures, defines the
amorous atmosphere. Fragonard’s women seem immersed
in it. They obey the dictates of Love and ready themselves
for a fulfillment that is yet to come. But the sentimental
currents that flow into this work became mainstreams
only in the nineteenth century,43 and with this painting
the story of swinging in eighteenth-century French art
comes to an end.
New York University, Institute of Fine Arts
1 East 78th Street
New York, NY 10021
Bibliography
Fuchs, E., Illustrierte Sittengeschichte, 6 vols., Munich, n.d. (Vols. 3 and
4 = Galante Zeit, i, ii; Vols. 5 and 6 = Biirgerliche Zeit, i, ii.).
Ingersoll-Smouse, F., Pater, Paris, 1928.
Rosenberg, P., and E. Camesasca, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Watteau, Paris,
1970.
Wentzel, H. “Jean-Honor4 Fragonards ‘Schaukel.’ Bemerkungen zur
Ikonographie der Schaukel in der Bildenden Kunst,” Wallraf-Richartz-
Jahrbuch, xxvi, 1964, 187-218.
Wildenstein, G., The Paintings of Fragonard, London, 1960.
, Lancret, Paris, 1924.
41 Fragonard was not the first to use the motif in this way. See above, n.
37.
42 In size (19 3/4″ X 2714?”) it is not, in fact, much smaller than the
Wallace Collection painting (see above, n. 25). I am grateful to M. Daniel
Wildenstein for lending me a photograph of the Small Swing.
43 Victor Hugo’s “Sara la Baigneuse” swings above the basin of a fountain,
immersed in an imaginary perfume “qui fait aimer … Et sans cesse
se balance avec amour.” In 1892 Fantin-Latour made a lithograph to illustrate
Berlioz’s musical version of Hugo’s poem. See G. Kahn, Fantin-
LaTour, Paris, 1926, 50, pl. 39.
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