Art Styles: Rococo Art

Rococo style of painting by Francois Boucher titled "Madame de Pompadour"Rococo is an eighteenth century art style which placed emphasis on portraying the carefree life of the aristocracy rather than on grand heroes or pious martyrs. The word Rococo is seen as a combination of the French rocaille, or stone garden (referring to arranging stones in natural forms like shells), and the Italian barocco, or Baroque style. Due to Rococo love of shell-like curves and focus on decorative arts, some critics used the term to derogatively imply that the style was frivolous or merely modish. When the term was first used in English in about 1836, it was a colloquialism meaning "old-fashioned". However, since the mid 19th century, the term has been accepted by art historians. Rococo stresses purely ornamental, light, casual, irregular design.

Love and romance were considered to be better subjects for art than historical or religious subjects. The Rococo style was characterized by a free, graceful movement, a playful use of line, and delicate colors. Based in France Rococo art is normally associated with the reign of King Louis XV, although the movement actually began in the 17th century. With the rise of the middle class, high society in Paris became the pinnacle of fashion. Louis XIV was succeed by the Duke of Orleans in 1715, who was know for enjoying the privileges of his office, moving social life away from the formal courts and into salons. This attitude was continued with the following reign of Louis XV. Rococo was manifested out of this new era of thought where society abandoned the formality of the earlier years and began pursuing personal amusement and happiness.

The French Jean-Antoine Watteau is often referred to as the greatest of the Rococo painters. Watteau's work began to epitomize the movement with its idyllic and charming approach. He often created asymmetrical compositions. This type of aesthetic balance became not only an important part of Rococo art, but of design in general.

Rococo style painting " The Embarkation for Cythera" by Francois BoucherAnother artist that represented the Rococo period was Francois Boucher, who created paintings and designed tapestries for the French royalty and nobility.  His picture of the Embarkation for Cythera (shown here) demonstrates the elegance of this style. While there is still some debate about the historical significance of the style to art in general, Rococo is now widely recognized as a major period in the development of European art.

The 1730s represented the height of Rococo development in France. The style had spread beyond architecture and furniture to painting and sculpture, exemplified by the works of Antoine Watteau and François Boucher. Rococo still maintained the Baroque taste for complex forms and intricate patterns, but by this point, it had begun to integrate a variety of diverse characteristics, including a taste for Oriental designs and asymmetric compositions.

The Rococo style spread with French artists and engraved publications. It was readily received in the Catholic parts of Germany, Bohemia, and Austria, where it was merged with the lively German Baroque traditions. German Rococo was applied with enthusiasm to churches and palaces, particularly in the south, while Frederician Rococo developed in the Kingdom of Prussia.

In England Rococo was always thought of as the "French taste" and was never widely adopted as an architectural style, although its influence was strongly felt in such areas as silverwork, porcelain, and silks, and Thomas Chippendale transformed English furniture design through his adaptation and refinement of the style. Rococo is seen both as the climax and fall of Baroque art. After the heavy works created in the Baroque style artists were ready for a change. The Rococo manner was a reaction against the "grand manner" of art identified with the baroque formality and rigidity of court life.


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