LANCRET, Nicolas
(b. 1690, Paris, d. 1743, Paris)

The Swing

c. 1735
Oil on canvas, 70 x 89 cm
Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Lancret is regarded alongside Jean-Baptiste Pater as the most important representative of the many artists influenced by Watteau, most of whom chose individual motifs or groups from his "fete galante" and made them independent themes. This process alone is indicative of a specific tendency in Rococo: the tendency towards small scale, intimate scenes. In Lancret's painting The Swing we find a highly popular motif of the time, treated not only by Fragonard, Boucher and Pater, but also by lesser painters of the era. Just what made the swing such a popular theme becomes clear here.

It is not only the erotic aura, whose "moment of happiness" is to be found in a glimpse under the petticoats, but also the fact that the swing is a metaphor of an interim realm belonging neither to the earth nor to the air. It remains intangible, allocated neither to an element nor to a physical place. Non-committal coquettishness, the freedom of intimacy, the bonds that do not tie: all these are evoked by the rope with which the desiring cavalier is moving the swing, not as a symbol, but certainly as an obvious suggestion.