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Figures in Nature

Jean-Honoré Fragonard
The Swing, 1767
Oil on canvas
81 x 64.2 cm (31.9 x 25.3 in.)
The Wallace Collection, London

Every aspect of human existence is intricately intertwined with nature, as humans originate from and fundamentally embody its essence. The relationship between humans and nature has been a longstanding subject in art history through various periods. Artists have depicted the human figure existing within nature - sometimes in harmony, other times in dissonance.

The Rococo style of the 18th century often portrayed nature as seductive and mysterious, enveloping human beings with an enigmatic aura. This characteristic is exemplified in Jean-Honoré Fragonard's flirtatious paintings, including his renowned work, The Swing (1767), which features an outdoor scene replete with lush foliage, blooming flowers, and gentle crepuscular light. Through delicate and ornamental representations of nature, the artwork captures the soft and delicate atmosphere surrounding the relationship between the young woman and the two male figures. It portrays the interplay of light and shadow within the natural setting, celebrating the carefree enjoyment of life, the pursuit of pleasure, and the innate sensuality of human relationships.

In the 19th century, Impressionist painters revolutionized the representation of nature by emphasizing light and atmosphere. Édouard Manet's Luncheon on the Grass (1863) exemplifies his exceptional talent for capturing the contrast of light on figures and their surroundings. The painting portrays a group immersed in a picnic, featuring fully dressed men and a naked woman. This unconventional scene creates a cryptic ambience, blurring the boundaries between the characters and their natural backdrop, inviting contemplation on their relationships and adding to the composition’s intrigue.

Contemporary artists depict surrealistic landscapes to express their longing to escape personal struggles or societal dilemmas. By incorporating surreal elements into their depictions of nature, they create dreamlike settings that blur the line between reality and imagination. One such artist is Eko Nugroho , an Indonesian artist who embeds figures and animals within dense jungle settings. Through his work, he reimagines the symbolism of masked identities, shedding light on the chaos, discrimination, and violence that permeate history beneath the facade of democracy, equality, and peace. Nugroho's art serves as a powerful commentary on societal challenges, unearthing the hidden complexities beneath seemingly harmonious surfaces.

Eko Nugroho
A Pot Full of Peace Spells, 2018
Embroidered painting
275 x 316 cm (108.3 x 124.4 in.)
© Eko Nugroho, courtesy of the artist and Arario Gallery, Seoul

Related categories


Landscape Painting


Relationship Between

Symbolic Images/Objects

Human Nature/Existence

Human and Nature

Reality and Fantasy / Illusion / Imagination

(Inspired by) Nature





Surrounding Environment

Blurring Boundaries

19th Century Art

18th Century Art

Riverscape / Seascape

Dreamlike Imagery

Human Relationship

Traces of Hidden Stories


Soft and Meticulous Brushstrokes

The Seasons