Extramarital affair of one’s spouse would be the most destructive and painful experience of anyone’s marital life. But it is one of the most frequently used subjects in literature, drama, movie, and art across the ages and in all countries of the world.
This artwork drawn by the 18th-century French artist Jean-Honoré Fragonard depicts an extramarital affair of French noble man and woman. A young lady is sitting in a swing in a thick forest and her young lover in the bushes is staring at her, almost lying on the ground. His hands reaching towards her skirt blown up in the air and her shoes flying through the air suggest sexual activity between the two. Her old husband is happily pushing her swing, not knowing what is going on. The Cupid statue on the left is putting his finger on his mouth, as if he is trying to keep a secret. A pair of putti, baby spirits, seems like they do not care about their affair. A white dog, a symbol of fidelity, is standing beside the husband, barking loud as if it is warning its master of their infidelity. But no one seems to care about the dog.
This painting is commissioned by the Baron de Saint-Julien, who wanted a picture of himself and his mistress. Originally, the Baron asked another painter to draw a bishop pushing a swing. The painter refused to draw such scene that could put him in danger. That is why young Fragonard took the job instead. Clever Fragonard accepted the offer but changed a bishop into a normal man.
Fragonard’s paintings, which were full of hedonism, sensuality, and even humor, attracted the eyes of Louis XV, his mistress Madame de Pompadour, and noble men and women. He soon became the most representative Rococo artist of that time.
After the French Revolution, however, Fragonard’s paintings were considered vulgar and out of date. After his sponsors were guillotined, he suffered from extreme poverty and died a miserable death. His name was forgotten in history. The end of a painter, who wasted his talent on catering to immoral men in power, was even more painful than having an unfaithful spouse.