Pierre-Auguste Cot (French, Bédarieux 1837–1883 Paris)
18 cm x 30 cm image, digitally printed on bright white, matte print surface, 250 GSM premium paper
This image of a very young couple swaying together on a swing that seems to hang, fancifully, from the heavens in the middle of a lush enchanted forest replete with white birch trees, irises, small daisies, and butterflies has captivated many visitors to The Met, just as it did visitors to the Salon of 1873. There, the painting appeared with the accompanying lines in Italian: "O primavera! gioventù dell’anno! / O gioventù! primavera della vita!!!" (Oh spring! youth of the year! / Oh youth! spring of life!!!).
The flowers and butterflies signifying spring frame a boy’s doting gaze and a girl’s coy smile and sidelong glance, in short, a budding flirtation. The boy’s playfully-positioned legs—with his left foot hooked back around his right calf—and the girl’s transparent classical drapery bring the subject of sex as close to young love as it gets in late nineteenth-century French painting. Her drapery appears to be caught by the light breeze caused by their movement, even as the figures and their swing sit still enough in the center of the canvas for the painter to capture them with perfect clarity. Her more demure pose, with the right foot latched around the left ankle, and her arms trustingly clasped around the neck of her companion, along with the sunlight skimming her body, all highlight her youth.