The leisure time of summer was a predominant theme in the works of many American Impressionists and particularly captivated William Glackens in the 1910s. Between 1911 and 1916, Glackens and his family spent the summers in the small community of Belleport, located on the southern shore of Long Island. The series of paintings that he painted during these summers are considered some of his finest achievements. The artist explored various subject matter inspired by his local surroundings such as the beaches, local establishments and other genre subjects such as the present work, The Swing from 1913. Moreover, during this time Glackens developed new painting techniques that formed his own unique style of Impressionism.
Glackens first developed his Impressionist technique when traveling to Paris in 1912 to select and purchase paintings for Albert C. Barnes, the distinguished collector of Impressionistic and Post-Impressionistic paintings. During this trip, Glackens, traveling with his friend and fellow painter Alfred Maurer, had the opportunity to examine many Impressionist and Post-Impressionistic works by visiting the most prominent galleries of the day such as Durand-Ruel and Bernheim-Jeune. At the same time, Glackens and Maurer made the acquaintance of Leo and Gertrude Stein who introduced them to the work of the modernist Henri Matisse, whose brilliant color harmonies were largely unknown to Glackens.
Glackens described the revolutionary effect of French Impressionism on American landscape painters. In an interview with his friend and artist-journalist Guy Pène du Bois, Glackens said, "Theodore Robinson, Hassam, Weir, and Twachtman were the first to bring here or to show the influence of the French Impressionists under the leadership of Monet. They brought into our art a new theory of color, a color that was honestly derived from the truth that we had not fully realized. They sent out landscapists into the open, sent them out after a new view of nature and cleared away the murkiness of the studio landscape." (Arts and Decorations, vol. 3, March, 1913, pp. 159-164)
The extraordinary first hand exposure to recent French art had a profound effect on Glackens's approach, and he soon adopted a vivid palette that employed contrasting color harmonies. Soon after Glackens exhibited his Belleport pictures, critics noticed that change in his approach to color. In 1913, Mary Fanton Roberts wrote: "A more complete realization of all that color can accomplish on canvas has never been presented, we think, in one private exhibition in New York, and presented, with a variety so infinite that it is as though Nature had shared with Mr. Glackens the splendor of her most prodigal moods." (Craftsman, vol. 24, April 1913, pp. 135-136)
The Swing offers a glimpse of one of the myriad of leisurely activities pursued during the summertime at Belleport. Glackens portrays a quiet shaded area of a park populated by a small group of women reading and girls playing. Through the clever manipulation of color and brush, Glackens ornaments the canvas surface with bold strokes of saturated pigments that are further enhanced by rejuvenating summer light. The Swing poignantly illustrates Glackens's highly personal Impressionist technique and his ability to translate the optimistic carefree qualities of summertime onto canvas.