The Happy Accidents of the Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard
“The Happy Accidents of the Swing” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard depicts an elegant young woman on a swing with two men on either side of the swing. An enthusiastic young man is hiding in the bushes watching her from a vantage point that allows him to see up into her billowing dress. He is clearing the flower bush with his hat for a better view. As the young lady swings higher, she throws her left leg up, allowing her shoe to fly through the air. An older man in the shadows on the right is propelling and guiding the swing with a pair of ropes. The older man appears to be unaware of the younger man.
Fragonard has added two statues in the form of putti, depicted as a chubby male child, to the composition to elaborate the narrative. The putto above the young man on the left has its finger in front of its lips in a sign of silence or secrecy. The pair of putti, who watch from beside the older man on the right, represents a couple. To further demonstrate the young woman’s intentions, the small dog at the older man’s feet is shown barking.
This painting is also known as “The Swing,” is considered to be one of the masterpieces of the Rococo era and is Fragonard’s best-known work. The style of the painting was characteristic of the French Rococo period and was favored by the wealthy art patrons of the 1780s. This style of “frivolous” painting soon became the target of the philosophers of the Enlightenment, who demanded a more serious art to show the nobility of man.
The dominant French culture was highly influential on Fragonard’s themes, which were mostly erotic, secretive romance or love scenes, painted for Louis XV’s pleasure-loving court’s enjoyment.
The Rococo style began in France in the first part of the 18th century in the reign of Louis XV as a reaction against the more formal and geometric form. It soon spread to other parts of Europe, mainly northern Italy, Bavaria, Austria, other parts of Germany, and Russia. It also came to influence the other arts, particularly sculpture, furniture, silverware and glassware, painting, music, and theatre.
A putto is a figure depicted as a chubby male child, usually naked and sometimes winged. Initially symbolizing worldly passions, the putto came to represent the sacred cherub. In Baroque art, the putto came to represent the omnipresence of God.
The iconography of putti is fluid, so that it is difficult to tell the difference between putti, cupids, and various forms of angels. They have no unique, immediately identifiable attributes, so that putti may have many meanings and roles in the context of art.
Jean-Honoré Fragonard became a prominent painter within the Rococo artistic movement, which was filled with light colors, asymmetrical designs, and curved, natural forms. The Rococo style emerged in Paris during the eighteenth century, more specifically during the reign of Louis XV.
Fragonard produced more than 550 paintings, and among his most famous works are genre paintings conveying an atmosphere of intimacy and veiled eroticism.
- Title: The Swing also known as The Happy Accidents of the Swing
- Français: Les hasards heureux de l’escarpolette
- Artist: Jean-Honoré Fragonard
- Created: 1767-1768
- Media: Oil-on-canvas
- Movement Rococo
- Dimensions: Height: 45 cm (17.7 ″); Width: 55 cm (21.6 ″)
- Museum: Wallace Collection
- Name: Jean-Honoré Fragonard
- Born: 1732 – Grasse, France
- Died: 1806 (aged 74) – Paris, France
- Nationality: French
- Notable works:
Twitter Feedback on “The Swing” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard – Feb 7, 2020
Question: What story do you see in this painting?
- The very naughty woman, the cuckolded husband and the lover getting a very good view !!!
- Display of delights during maintenance negotiations
- I have always liked this painting even though I really don’t care for the Rococo period. I like the fun & mischievousness of the subjects along with the bright colors and the feel of exhilaration you imagine she has from swinging so high while flirting.
- It’s a flirtatious young mademoiselle on a tree swing
- “The Swing”. Erotismo, sedução, o cupido.
- My wife on our wedding day…
- She just kicked that guy in the face
- She looks more like a prostitute she obviously can see him and that man behind her maybe her servant I don’t know but that looks like a pretty bawdy painting
- Peyton Place.
- Growing up, I knew it merely as “The Swing”. At the age of maybe 11 or 12 I assumed she knew exactly what was going on & was flirting.
- Ah finally my art history minor coming in handy
- I like to think that what happens next is she swings backward knocking over the man standing behind. I think Lizzo’s Good as Hell would work with this.
- Old man is a servant/gardener: His tools lay in the forefront. His attire shows he is of a different class. The small, white dog represents playfulness; a spiritual journey. The young, courtier is laying in a flowering bush. This piece is saying, “Their love is in bloom.” 🙂
- I’m an art history major and it’s exactly what it looks like. It’s a gorgeous and interesting piece.
- Is this the one that shocked people in the eighteenth century because it looked like he was looking up her skirt?
- It is entirely about sex. Specifically, the female orgasm. Or so I learned from Sister Wendy on PBS.
- Thinly veiled 18th-century porn that could be observed in public so you don’t get arrested.
- Old man Trump puppeteering his daughter’s altitude & a faux air of angelic purity to lure potential business partners, lustful men who can be manipulated & blackmailed, & others they hope to ensnare in their web.
What story do you see in this painting?https://t.co/zjWMIaIFUU
— Joy of Museums 🌐 (@joyofmuseums) February 7, 2020
A Tour of the Wallace Collection
- “The Laughing Cavalier” by Frans Hals
- “A Dance to the Music of Time” by Nicolas Poussin
- “Perseus and Andromeda” by Titian
- The Happy Accidents of the Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard
A Tour of London’s Museums
- The British Museum
- The National Gallery, London
- Tate Britain
- The Wallace Collection
- The Victoria and Albert Museum
- Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace
- Courtauld Gallery
- Tate Modern, London
- Science Museum, London
- National Portrait Gallery, London
- Natural History Museum
- Charles Dickens Museum
- Hampton Court Palace
- Sherlock Holmes Museum
- British Library
- Imperial War Museum
“When I saw the beauty of the Raphaels, I was moved to tears, and I could scarcely hold my pencil.”
– Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Photo Credit 1) Jean-Honoré Fragonard [Public domain]