These paintings, though painted more than 100 years apart, have many similarities. Both are now considered to be masterpieces of their respective art-historical eras, Fragonard’s of the Rococo period and Renoir’s of the Impressionist. Both Rococo and Impressionism were artistic movements that, in their early years, drew scorn from the...
general public and the traditional art community. Both paintings combine elements of landscape, portraiture, and still life into one artwork. Both are joyous and celebratory rather than overly serious or historical. Both present scenes that highlight the cultural values of their times. Fragonard shows the love of classical themes by placing cherub and Cupid sculptures in the painting and has the lady wearing a traditional shepherdess’s hat, a very conventional theme of poetry and painting. In the postures and clothing depicted, along with the location deep in a forest, there is a hint of the generally secretive, unspoken-of nature that portrayals of romance from this time period often invoked (with the great exception that the suitor hiding below the swinging lady is sneaking a glimpse up her flowing skirts). Renoir details the changing times of the late 1800’s with women and men of different social classes openly drinking and carousing together in public, and the desire of that public to see itself depicted in fine artworks.
Both paintings emphasize color and light in their compositions, and both are oriented along a strong diagonal: the swing in Fragonard and the table and awning in Renoir.
Both the Rococo and the Impressionist movements were a reaction to what was then perceived as an overpowering conservatism dominant in the artistic and general culture of both time periods. Rococo was a reaction to the strictures imposed on art and culture by the overly ornate Baroque period, which immediately preceded it, and was dominated by religious and court (government) sanctioned themes. Rococo attempted to be light, airy, bright, curvy, and comedic; and also a little bit naughty as The Swing attests. Impressionism was a reaction to the strictness of the French Academy, which judged all new paintings and tried to preserve a tradition of historical, religious, and noble portraiture as the only acceptable subjects for a painting. Impressionism rebelled against the Academy by depicting scenes and subjects from everyday modern life in candid settings (like a group of friends partying on a boat over lunch); landscapes were painted outside using direct observation (en plein air), rather than inside a studio.
As to differences between the paintings, there are some pertinent ones. Fragonard’s The Swing was painted in 1767 and Renoir’s Luncheon in 1880. Fragonard’s subject matter is an idealized version of reality painted in a studio and was commissioned by a nobleman. Renoir’s subject matter is anchored in the texture of the actual, lived-in world. The subjects in the painting are his friends (including his future wife) at an actual location. Note the diversity of styles and type of persons depicted: everything from t-shirts to top hats. And lastly, Fragonard’s painting was made while he lived in a Monarchy (though one that would last only about 20 years after the painting) and Renoir’s was painted in a Democratic Republic (though one which struggled to be born and included periods of regression back to a Monarchy). Great artworks are truly timeless but the circumstances surrounding their creation should never be ignored. (Check out the link to the Tate museum in London for Yinka Shonibare's contemporary take on Fragonard's The Swing).