The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Le Grande Odalisque
by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres
This paper aims to present two paintings from two different periods and movements in art history: Jean-Honore Fragonard’s L’escarpolette (The Swing) and Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres’ Le Grande Odalisque (The Grand Odalisque). It will narrate a brief biaography of the two artists and will reveal the elements and themes of their works of art, as well as the stylistic characteristics. Furthermore, it will unleash the underlying allegories and the cultural contexts of the art works.
Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806) was a French painter whose masterpieces evoke frivolity and valor, becoming the most complete manifestation and illustration of a Rococo pleasure. For a short period of time, he has been the pupil of Chardin—one of the greatest painters in the 18th century—and also an apprentice of Boucher—a French painter known for his mythological and pastoral illustrations—before winning the Prix de Rome in 1752. He seldom dates his pieces making it difficult to plot his artistic and stylistic development (Pioch).
Jean-Honore Fragonard ‘s works embody the liberty and inquisitiveness of the French Enlightenment. He has developed an exorbitant and fluid style in painting, drafting and printmaking. He has been known for his Stolen Kiss, a painting done for the deputy of Breteuil, French Ambassador to the Order of Malta in Rome (Stein).
Fragonard’s The Swing, an oil on canvas painted in 1766 and is currently at the Wallace Collection in London, focuses on the central metaphor that illustrates an intensely and profoundly poetic manner. The circular image of the woman on the swing encloses a light that is invented by the painter to comprehend its allegorical meaning—a light that comes from the center of his canvas, on the woman’s curving and flowing satin dress (Ashton 15).
It is the high representation of the epoch, a Rococo archetype with a noble and aristocratic decadence. It is a triumph not because of its methodological excellence but for the slander behind it (“Jean Fragonard: The Swing”). The said painting, at first look, illustrates a lovely and amusing afternoon outing: a man pushes a woman on a swing and a young man innocently watches in front of her. On the other hand, the woman’s pink dress catches the spectator’s heed as it flies through the air. A close attention to the detail reveals that her shoe has also been thrown in the air. The young man in front of her is amazed, not because her shoe has been flown, but rather he can glance up at her legs (Wilder and Garton 222).
The detail of The Swing is given by the known patron to Fragonard: he, and his mistress as the subject, however, the image is depersonalized. Fragonard’s tremendous and opulent imagination enables the painting to be viewed as a universal portrayal of blissful, carefree sexuality (Fleming and Honour n.p.).
The theme revolves with love and the residing passion, showcase by the sculptures in the lower center portion of the picture: dolphins driven by cupids portraying the water-chariot of Venus illustrates the impetuous billow of love (Fleming, Honour n.p).
Another chosen artist is Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres who has been known for his art entitle, The Ambassadors of Agamemnon Arriving at the Tent of Achilles (1801), which reveals an apparent Neoclassical style, makes him win the Prix de Rome.
Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) is one of the major French painters in the first half of the 19th century along with Eugène Delacroix . He learns drawing from his sculptor farther before entering the Academy of Art in Toulouse during the 1791. He is also seen as a leader who opposes the style and approach of romanticism and neoclassicism (“Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres”). He is David’s greatest student who attempts to follow his teacher’s footstep as a history painter. Unfortunately, he did not make it. Instead he outshines with his close-up, sensual and intimate paintings (Wilder and Garton 234). In addition to this he also paints subjects depicting historical and religious aspects. All through his artistic career, he paints exotic Levantine subjects, which are illustrated in his series of bathers that begins in 1807. Two of these well-known works were the Turkish Bath (1859-1863) and The Grand Odalisque (1814) (“Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres”).
Ingres’ The Grand Odalisque is 91 x 162 cm oil on canvas painting finished in 1842. It is currently at the Musée du Louvre in Paris. It connotes “female harem slave” and is first exhibited in 1819, the epoch wherein critics and public verbally molested it, however, after the initial surprise, the painting sinks in on them. Ten years after the exhibition, The Grand Odalisque signifies triumph (Wilder and Garton 234).
Figure 2. The Grande Odalisque
The effects of the said painting focus primarily on drawing and linearity. Nevertheless, Ingres manipulates color for its intended result. The turquoise silk curtain with its red flower decorations strengthen the temperate flesh tone of the Grand Odalisque. Ingres paints it in 1814 for Queen Caroline Murat, Napoloen’s sister. Compared to Goya’s Maja, the Grand Odalisque is hardly intimate. The representation of eroticism appears gradually, allowing the viewers to evaluate the glimpse of the naked woman (Kren and Marx).
The Grand Odalisque has been taken into account for the woman’s extraordinary length of her back, by which the painter has added three extra vertebrae for her general anatomical inaccuracy. The indiscernible vertebrae are clear manifestations of the required physical mutilation for all the members of the harem in Western thought and imagination (qtd. in Mirzoeff 109).
Historically, Ingres’ The Grand Odalisque is created in controversy even though he is known as “the conservator of good and true art” from mid-1820s forward, after finishing the said painting, he has been criticized for the production of a work of art judged as “primitive” (qtd. in Olson, Finnegan and Hope 250).
The two chosen and featured paintings are done in two different styles from different periods of time by two different artists. Fragonard’s The Swing showcase the Rococo’s artistic movement. It does illustrate the visual manifestation of the optimism that people feel in response to the work of art. It also showcases the motif of the said style: ornamental, light and casual. It characterizes pastel colors, elegantly delicate curving forms—which are illustrated with the woman’s dress, the extending branch of a tree, the woman’s hat and the position of the man in front the woman—fanciful figures—portray by the sculptures, by the faces of the man—and a lightened mood, which is depicted by the overall ambience of the painting.
On the other hand, Ingres The Grand Odalisque represents Romanticism, a style wherein it cannot be discerned in a single approach and manner, technique and attitude. It is generally exemplified by an extremely imaginative and subjective approach and emotional strength. Ingres paints The Grand Odalisque in a sense that he shows his fascination in the harem’s slave’s passions and inner struggle, which can be hauled from the woman’s glance; she stares at the viewer in a way of crafting a communication, evoking a certain emotion with the spectator.
It has been said that Fragonard paints not just one version of The Swing but rather three versions that vary on the approach and theme of each canvas. For him, the swing is not just a simple motif capable of easy analysis and interpretation and execution. Furthermore, the painting illustrates a swinging woman that carries an iconographic reading of female fickleness and erotic love (Milam 543).
The Swing is created when Fragonard returns from Paris because he has been in Italy during the 1756 to 1761 where he develops a certain appreciation for Tiepolo and the late Baroque style. Thus, he changes his approach and style when he comes back wherein he adopts the erotic subjects that are popular then, making the said painting as the most famous (“Jean-Honore Fragonard: The Swing”).
On the contrary, The Grand Odalisque is Ingres creation due to his fascination in sensuality and eroticism of a near eastern harem. Being one of the Romantics, he is definitely interested in art history and exotic cultures. He often utilizes classical sculptures as a reference material for his figures and implies the importance of line as for Greek art works by Raphael (Himes).
The intended implication of the two paintings is definitely erotic albeit Fragonard’s The Swing entails an unintended implication of the high society’s life in blissful isolation. It signifies triumph during the creation and revelation, however, twenty-two years after he paints it, the French Revolution divulges the constrained hatred and resentment of the under classes. During that era, sensual Rococo paintings had fallen out of support, thus Fragonard then lives in poverty (Wilder and Garton 222). In contrast to that, The Grand Odalisque of Ingres receives verbal abuse and attack in its first exhibition, nevertheless, after ten years, it has been showed again to the public, and triumph then supersedes the mistreatment.
If Fragonard’s The Swing depicts the high society’s blissful and pleasurable isolation with the poor, Ingres’ The Grand Odalisque portrays the most obsessive Western speculation—the harem’s slave. The two paintings differ primarily on their subject: Fragonard represents the aristocrats, on the contrary, Ingres illustrates the lowest class in the society—the slaves. The two chosen paintings, when juxtaposed, represent ironical dichotomy on the subject matter albeit their underlying allegories reveal one definite theme: eroticism.
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Cite this Two Paintings from Different Directions in Art History
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