Whilst it was Jean-Honoré Fragonard, the 18th Century heir to Watteau’s Rococo art crown, who in circa 1767-68 created arguably the most whimsical portrayal of this particular subject matter, his much celebrated Les hazards heureux de l'escarpolette (The Swing),1 it was undeniably Watteau’s own emblematic portrayals from significantly earlier in the century that fired the imaginations of future generations of French artists. Indeed, Watteau was already addressing the subject as early as circa 1712, in his wonderful composition of a young man pushing a woman on a swing, known as L’escarpolete, now housed in the Sinebrychoff Art Museum, Helsinki.2 This was subsequently engraved by Louis Crépy in 1727,3 whilst a very similar figure study featuring a woman on a swing can be found in a red chalk counterproof of a Watteau drawing, now in the collection of the Nationalmuseum, Stockholm, dated by Rosenberg and Prat to circa 1711-12.4
The handling of the red chalk medium in the present sheet, with the delicate, small strokes to the lower half of the woman’s dress, countered by a more robust application of the same media below her left arm, also suggests that this drawing dates from an early period in Watteau’s career. A highly comparable figure, who features on a sheet of Trois études de femmes,5 in the collection of the Musée Carnavalet, Paris, can be closely compared to the present lot, both in the manner that Watteau has handled the varying degrees of light and shade in her dress, as well as the highly distinctive way he has drawn her face, with just the merest indications for her eyes, nose and mouth. The Musée Carnavalet sheet has been dated by Rosenberg and Prat to circa 1710-1711 on stylistic grounds, and a similar date can also be convincingly applied to the present sheet.
1. See P. Rosenberg, Tout l’oeuvre peint de Fragonard, Paris 1989, pp. 90-91, no. 177
2. G. Macchia and E.C. Montagni, L'Opera completa di Watteau, Milan 1968, p. 95, no. 36, reproduced
3. P. Rosenberg and L.-A. Prat, Antoine Watteau 1684-1721, Catalogue raisonné des dessins, Milan 1996, vol. I, p. 208, fig. 131c
4. Ibid., pp. 208-209, no. 131, reproduced
5. Ibid., pp. 166-167, no. 104, reproduced
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