Hubert Robert (French, 17331808)
Oil on canvas; 68 1/4 x 34 5/8 in. (173.4 x 87.9 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.27)
Immediately upon his return from Rome (175465), where he studied classical buildings and gardens, "Robert des Ruines"as he was known among the French nobilitybecame the fashionable painter of the day. He was commissioned not only to decorate interiors, often with park scenes, but also to design or remodel his clients' actual gardens, even those at Versailles. The Swing belonged to a set of six paintings commissioned in 1779 for Louis XVI's brother, the count of Artois, to decorate his pleasure house Bagatelle, near Paris. Depicting a slightly dilapidated and therefore fashionably picturesque Italian garden with balustraded terrace surrounded by high rising trees, the garden is reminiscent of the Villa d'Este in Tivoli, which Robert studied extensively during his Rome years. The garden is filled with references to antiquity, from broken columns to a statue of Hercules, which, in Robert's characteristic lighthearted fashion, smiles at the unfolding love scene. The image of a woman swinging back and forth on a swing has explicit sexual overtones and is typical of garden scenes in the early eighteenth-century French fêtes galantes tradition, to which Robert's painting belongs. Covering all the walls of a room, Robert's light and playful panels form windows opening onto an ideal garden landscape.