Rococo (less commonly roccoco) is a style of 18th century French art and interior design. Rococo rooms were designed as total works of art with elegant and ornate furniture, small sculptures, ornamental mirrors, and tapestry complementing architecture, reliefs, and wall paintings. It was largely supplanted by the Neoclassic style.
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. 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.
Rococo developed first in the decorative arts and interior design. Louis XIV's succession brought a change in the court artists and general artistic fashion. By the end of the old king's reign, rich Baroque designs were giving way to lighter elements with more curves and natural patterns. These elements are obvious in the architectural designs of Nicolas Pineau. During the Regence, court life moved away from Versailles and this artistic change became well established, first in the royal palace and then throughout French high society. The delicacy and playfulness of Rococo designs is often seen as perfectly in tune with the excesses of Louis XV's regime.
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 Francois 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. Architects often draped their interiors in clouds of fluffy white stucco. In Italy, the late Baroque styles of Borromini and Guarini set the tone for Rococo in Turin, Venice, Naples and Sicily, while the arts in Tuscany and Rome remained more wedded tlp Baroque.
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. William Hogarth helped develop a theoretical foundation for Rococo beauty. Though not intentionally referencing the movement, he argued in his Analysis of Beauty (1753) that the undulating lines and S-curves prominent in Rococo were the basis for grace and beauty in art or nature (unlike the straight line or the circle in Classicism). The development of Rococo in England is considered to have been connected with the revival of interest in Gothic architecture early in the 18th century.
The beginning of the end for Rococo came in the early 1760s as figures like Voltaire and Jacques-Francois Blondel began to voice their criticism of the superficiality and degeneracy of the art. Blondel decried the "ridiculous jumble of shells, dragons, reeds, palm-trees and plants" in contemporary interiors. By 1785, Rococo had passed out of fashion in France, replaced by the order and seriousness of Neoclassic artists like Jacques Louis David. In Germany, late 18th century Rococo was riduculed as Zopf und Perucke ("pigtail and periwig"), and this phase is sometimes referred to as Zopfstil. Rococo remained popular in the provinces and in Italy, until the second phase of neoclassicism, "Empire style," arrived with Napoleonic governments and swept Rococo away.
There was a renewed interest in the Rococo style between 1820 and 1870. The English were among the first to revive the "Louis XIV style" as it was miscalled at first, and paid inflated prices for second-hand Rococo luxury goods that could scarcely be sold in Paris. But prominent artists like Delacroix and patrons like Empress Eugé,nie also rediscovered the value of grace and playfulness in art and design.
Though Rococo originated in the purely decorative arts, the style showed clearly in painting. These painters used delicate colors and curving forms, decorating their canvases with cherubs and myths of love. Portraiture was also popular among Rococo painters. Some works show a sort of naughtiness or impurity in the behavior of their subjects, showing the historical trend of departing away from the Baroque's church/state orientation. Landscapes were pastoral and often depicted the leisurely outings of aristocratic couples.
Jean-Antoinee Watteau (1684-1721) is generally considered the first great Rococo painter. He had a great influence on later painters, including Francois Boucher (1703-1770) and Jean-Honore, Fragonard (1732-1806), two masters of the late period. Even Thomas Gainsborough's (1727-1788) delicate touch and sensitivity are reflective of the Rococo spirit. Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun's (1755-1842) style also shows a great deal of Rococo influence, particularly in her portraits of Marie Antoinette. Other Rococo painters include: Jean Francois de Troy (1679-1752), Jean-Baptiste van Loo (1685-1745), his two sons Louis-Michel van Loo (1707-1771) and his younger brother Charles-Andree, van Loo (1705-1765), Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743), and both Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin (1699-1779) and Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805), who were important French painters of the Rococo era who are considered Anti-Rococo.
During the Rococo era Portraiture was an important component of painting in all countries, but especially in England, where the leaders were William Hogarth (1697-1764), in a blunt realist style, and Francis Hayman (1708-1776), Angelica Kauffman who was Swiss, (1741-1807), Thomas Gainsborough and Joshua Reynolds (1723-1792), in more flattering styles influenced by Antony Van Dyck (1599-1641). While in France during the Rococo era Jean-Baptiste Greuze who was the favorite painter of Denis Diderot (1713-1785), Maurice Quentin de La Tour (1704-1788), and Elisabeth Vigee-Lebrun were highly accomplished Portrait painters and History painters.