The Friday Special – Helena’s Masterclass on Fragonard’s “The Swing”

Helena’s been to the Wallace Collection* again. In this podcast she looks at the collection’s other masterpiece, Jean-Honoré  Fragonard’s The Swing. This podcast backgrounds the painting and its artist. Usual strong recommendation: as you listen have the Wallace Collection’s reproduction of the painting to hand, so you can refer to it as Helena elucidates it. Here’s the link. The wonder – as always – about Helena’s achievement is that, unfailingly, her work is blazingly, thrillingly intelligent while at the same time being “easy listening.” To stand before a great painting with her is to be enlightened and entertained. Every time I listen to one of her pieces I come away lost in admiration. As well as having learned a great deal, “seen” the painting in ways undreamt of before I sat down with her. At one point in this piece she talks about Fragonard’s native landscape making “an indelible stamp on his mind.” It’s no exaggeration to say that’s what each of her art appreciation masterclasses does to me: makes “an indelible stamp on my mind.” She’s a special talent.

*The Wallace Collection is one of the highlights of our Saturday afternoon Old Marylebone Walk.


the epitome of the French rococo style

meets all the requirements of the rococo style

meticulous attention to detail

what sensuous colours he employs

lighting effects are subtle, subdued

the aristocracy at leisure

the subject matter is of an intimate nature

Fragonard could take the crudest of commissions and transform them into works that were light-hearted and humourous

“the grace of its execution and the tact of the artist excuse the sauciness of the subject”

a strong sexual content

everything seems out of control

a metaphor for the strength of unbridled passionate love

Fragonard was not the first choice for this painting

it’s worth pointing out that at that time many ladies were not accustomed to wearing underwear

to answer that question we need to go back in time and look at the early stages of Fragonard’s career

made an indelible stamp on Fragonard’s mind

how Fragonard’s use of the colour pink was more complex than we might originally have assumed

visionary, creative and inventive powers as well as technical skills

that was another incredibly important moment in Fragonard’s life and career

it’s clear to see from where Fragonard drew his main inspiration

one gesture in particular must have captured his attention

levels of unparalleled excellence

he vowed that he’d undertake no further public commissions

what were the other factors behind his monumental decision





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