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The Artistic Heritage of Modena: The Art of Diplomacy


The Swing

Hubert Robert (French, Paris 1733–1808 Paris)

Oil on canvas
68 1/4 x 34 5/8 in. (173.4 x 87.9 cm)
Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917
Accession Number:
  • Catalogue Entry

    Swings, with their romantic and voyeuristic overtones, were also popular with Jean Antoine Watteau (1684–1721), and Jean Honoré Fragonard (1732–1806), and the design of this painting may relate loosely to a print after Watteau. The young peasant moves not by her own volition but because the swing is fixed to one, or sometimes two, ropes, which are manipulated, as here, by interested men. Their stylish contemporary clothes and hats indicate a higher social class. The girl swings with abandon, revealing her heavy brown shoes. She looks over her shoulder, drawing our attention to an antique marble satyr on a pedestal. Robert had drawn the sculpture, then as now on the Campidoglio, when he was living in Rome. The composition exists in several versions. The canvas is a pendant to The Dance (17.190.28).


  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Inscription: Signed (on base of statue): H.ROBERT

  • Provenance

    Charles Philippe, comte d'Artois, château de Bagatelle, near Paris (until 1789); at Bagatelle, nationalized by the Assemblée and incorporated into the commune of Neuilly by spring 1792 (1789–96); Claude Leuthereau, Bagatelle (1796–97); André Lhéritier and a consortium of investors, Bagatelle (1797); André Lhéritier and the Société des Entrepreneurs de Fêtes (1797–1806); at Bagatelle, which was purchased by Napoleon's Administration des Domaines in 1806; sale, Hôtel de Bullion, Paris, Clisorius and Masson jeune, April 4, 1808, no. 151, as "Six Tableaux sous ce numéro; ils représentent des monuments d'Italie et amusements champêtres. Ils ont étés peints pour le ci-devant comte d'Artois, à Bagatelle. Toile."; the lot was divided into two parts, the first went for Fr 381, the second for Fr 240, both to Brunot; ?[Jacques Nicolas Brunot, from 1808]; Pierre Justin Armand Verdier, comte de Flaux, château de Flaux, near Uzès (until d. 1883); Édouard Henri Roger Verdier, comte de Flaux, château de Flaux (1883–d. 1898); Clémence Pascal Verdier, comtesse douairière de Flaux, château de Flaux (1898–d. 1908); Flaux estate (under arbitration, 1908–10); Eliane Berger, Roger de Flaux's daughter (1910–11; offered for sale to MMA and J. Pierpont Morgan through Maurice de Verneuil); J. Pierpont Morgan, New York (1911–d. 1913; his estate, 1913–17; on loan to MMA from April 1912)

  • Exhibition History

    Paris. Thos. Agnew & Sons. "Exposition d'oeuvres d'Hubert Robert (1733–1808)," March 12–30, 1912, one of nos. 1–8 (as "Panneaux Décoratifs pour un salon, provenant de la collection de Madame de Flaux," lent by J. Pierpont Morgan).

    Little Rock. Arkansas Arts Center. "Five Centuries of European Painting," May 16–October 26, 1963, unnumbered cat. (p. 37).

  • References

    M. [Luc-Vincent] Thiéry. Guide des amateurs et des étrangers voyageurs à Paris. Paris, 1787, vol. 1, pp. 28–29, describes the château de Bagatelle and states that the bathing room was ornamented with mirrors and with six charming pictures painted by M. Robert.

    Friedrich Gilly. Description de Bagatelle. 1797 [published by Edgar Wedepohl in L'Oeil, no. 126, 1965, p. 22], describes the château and mentions the Robert paintings.

    Annonces, affiches et avis divers 93 (April 2, 1808), p. 1478 [see Ref. Baillio 1995], preview the forthcoming sale of these works, "six tableaux de place, peints par Hubert Robert représentant des Monuments d'Italie".

    Charles Yriarte. "Mémoires de Bagatelle, I." La revue de Paris (July 1, 1903), pp. 21, 33, states that Robert was paid 500 livres for each of the six; mentions that by 1784 the pictures, suffering from dampness, were restored by the artist for 500 livres; notes that none of them remain in the pavilion but adds that they appear in the 1797 inventory where they are described as partly damaged by humidity.

    Henri-Gaston Duchesne. Le château de Bagatelle (1715–1908). Paris, 1909, pp. 142, 155, 160, quotes Yriarte, but also cites a document of May 18, 1784 in which only the small paintings to the right and left of the fireplace are mentioned as requiring restoration; notes that the six damaged paintings were left in situ when Bagatelle was leased to entrepreneurs in the year V [1796–97].

    L. de Quellern. Le château de Bagatelle. Paris, 1909, pp. 45–46, publishes the document of 1784.

    "Nouvelles." Chronique des arts et de la curiosité, supplément à la Gazette des beaux-arts no. 31 (October 7, 1911), p. 242, announces rediscovery of the six panels by M. Forestier, conservator of the Bois de Boulogne; notes that paintings are signed and bear dates of 1777 and 1784; states that they were brought to Malmaison and subsequently given by Empress Josephine to her physician; adds that he left them to his family, who brought them to the South of France.

    D. F[riedley]. "Decorative Panels by Hubert Robert." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 7 (July 1912), pp. 130–31, announces J. Pierpont Morgan's loan of the paintings to the Museum.

    Paris Letter [from unknown periodical]. 1917? [in typescript in MMA Archives, under Morgan, J. P., 1st, M. 8224, Loans - Paintings and Miniatures, Old Master Drawings: "Mystery of the Panels, Paris Letter," incorrectly as in American Art News, Dec. 29, 1917], note that there were originally eight compositions of this kind that the Empress Eugénie gave to her physician; that they were sold to Comte Flaux, and later entered the collection of De Verneuil, head of the Paris syndicate of official "agents de change"; wonder where the remaining two are since six were sold about ten years before to Morgan for "something like $200,000".

    J.C.N. Forestier Librairie agricole de la maison rustique. Bagatelle et ses jardins. Paris, 1922?, pp. 43–44.

    P[reston]. R[emington]. "Six Paintings by Hubert Robert." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 19 (January 1924), pp. 9–10, dates them 1777; suggests that the two restored works were the Cave (17.190.25) and the Swing (17.190.27); says all six were taken to Malmaison between 1806 and 1810 and were given by Josephine to her physician.

    Jean Stern. A l'ombre de Sophie Arnould: Francois-Joseph Belanger. Paris, 1930, vol. 1, p. 70.

    Georges Pascal. Histoire du château de Bagatelle. Paris, 1938, p. 34, notes that copies have replaced the Robert originals at Bagatelle.

    Louis Hautecœur. "Seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle: Le style Louis XVI, 1750–1792." Histoire de l'architecture classique en France. 4, Paris, 1952, p. 493.

    Ferdinand Boyer. "Jean-Joseph de Laborde protecteur de F.-X. Fabre et sa collection confisquée en 1794." Bulletin de la Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français (1954), p. 221 n. 1.

    Robert Joffet. Bagatelle: Histoire et guide. Paris, 1954, pp. 16, 27–28.

    Charles Sterling. "XV–XVIII Centuries." The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of French Paintings. 1, Cambridge, Mass., 1955, pp. 163–65, ill., accepts the tradition that the paintings were at Malmaison; refers to a similar painting which was shown at the Robert exhibition at the Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris, 1933, no. 160.

    Barbara Scott. "Bagatelle: Folie of the comte d'Artois." Apollo (June 1972), pp. 481, 485 n. 8.

    Béatrice de Andia et al. De Bagatelle à Monceau, 1778-1978: Les folies au XVIIIe siècle à Paris. Exh. cat., Musée Carnavalet. Paris, 1978–79, p. 16, accepts the tradition that the six paintings were once at the Malmaison.

    Gérard Hubert. Letter to Dean Walker. April 28, 1980, says there is no trace of the six panels having ever been in Josephine's collection; identifies her physician as Horeau; concludes that if the paintings belonged to her they were in her possession for only a short time.

    Jean de Cayeux. "Jeux d'eau pour une salle de bains." L'Objet d'art 8 (June 1988), pp. 64–65, 68, ill. (color), notes that on the right in this painting is an antique statue which Robert saw and drew in the Capitoline Museum; locates this sanguine drawing in the Musée de Valence; suggests that "The Bathing Pool" and "Wandering Minstrels" were installed at Bagatelle shortly before or shortly after the 1779 Salon, and that the narrower panels, including this one, were not completed until 1784.

    Annie Jacques Jean-Pierre Mouilleseaux in La Folie d'Artois. Exh. cat., château de Bagatelle, Paris. n.p., [1988], pp. 42–43, fig. 25 (color).

    Paul Bernard Wilson. "Profiles in Royalty: Hubert Robert's 'The Mouth of a Cave' and a Concealed Iconography of Louis XVI." Album Amicorum Kenneth C. Lindsay: Essays on Art and Literature. Binghamton, 1990, pp. 183–84.

    Joseph Baillio. "Hubert Robert's Decorations for the Château de Bagatelle." Metropolitan Museum Journal 27 (1992), pp. 149, 156–57, 161, 166–67, 171–73, 176–78, 181 n. 34, p. 182 nn. 39, 51, 53–54, fig. 25, with the exception of "The Mouth of a Cave," dates the Bagatelle series 1777–79; notes that the author of the anonymous Chronique des arts article [Ref. 1911], mentions that two of the paintings were signed and dated, one in 1777 and another in 1784, and observes that if "The Swing," which is signed, was in fact dated 1777, the date has since been removed; discusses Robert's variants of this composition; believes his inspiration for the two main figures was Watteau's lost arabesque panel, "La Balanceuse," commemorated in an engraving by Jacques Philippe Le Bas (fig. 27).

    Joseph Baillio. "Addendum to 'Hubert Robert's Decorations for the Château de Bagatelle'." Metropolitan Museum Journal 30 (1995), p. 103, notes that these paintings and Callet's six for the boudoirs of Bagatelle were auctioned in Paris on April 4, 1808 and purchased "by a certain Brunot".

    Paula Rae Radisich. Hubert Robert: Painted Spaces of the Enlightenment. Cambridge, 1998, pp. 78–79, 83, 85–90, 94–96, 172–72 nn. 25, 29, p. 174 n. 42, p. 176 n. 56, fig. 42.

    Katie Scott. "Book Reviews. Hubert Robert: Painted Spaces of the Enlightenment." Burlington Magazine 141 (November 1999), p. 690.

    Jean Strouse. Morgan: American Financier. New York, 1999, p. 559, briefly mentions our Bagatelle paintings (17.190.25–30).

    Jean Strouse. "J. Pierpont Morgan, Financier and Collector." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 57 (Winter 2000), pp. 27–28, ill. in color p. 27 and detail inside front cover.

    The Libertine: The Art of Love in Eighteenth-Century France. New York, 2013, ill. p. 188 (color).

  • See also