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Rococo Art

Rococo Art

Author: Ian McConnell
Description:

This lesson will consider a few examples of Rococo art.

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Tutorial

An overview of Rococo art.

Video Transcription

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Hello. I'd like to welcome you to this episode of Exploring Art History with Ian. My name is Ian McConnell, and today's lesson is about Rococo Art in France. As you're watching the video, feel free to pause, move forward or rewind as often as you feel is necessary. As soon as you're ready, we can begin.

Today's objectives, the things you're going to learn, are listed below. By the end of today's lesson, you'll be able to identify and define today's key terms. You'll be able to describe design elements of Rococo and identify examples of Rococo art.

Key terms, as always, are listed in yellow. The first key term is Fete Galante, a type of painting that developed during the Rococo period that depicts a party or other light hearted scene taking place outdoors.

Satire, the use of sarcasm, ridicule, emphasizing the weakness more than the weak person, denouncing vice and folly and implying moral judgment.

And Grand Manner Portraits, a style of portraiture that elevates the person depicted through references to classical and Renaissance art.

The Big Idea for today is that Antoine Watteau's artwork is exemplary of the Rococo style in art, with its emphasis on shimmering color and celebration of youth, luxury, and love.

So the Rococo, again, or late Baroque as it's sometimes known, is an art movement that took place during the 18th century.

And it was a movement that began in Paris, France during the early part of the 18th century.

The artist Antoine Watteau is most closely associated with Rococo painting in France. He was very interested in gaining acceptance to the Academy of the Arts in France, as well as painting themes that would appeal to his buyers. So to satisfy both, he developed a style called fete galante, which means amorous festival. This painting, considered his masterpiece, was what he submitted to the Academy for consideration. Watteau was Flemish and fell into the category of painters titled Rubenistes, after Peter Paul Rubens, who felt that color was the most important aspect of a painting. His influence helped in establishing the style of the Rococo as the most dominant style of painting in 18th century France.

So the mythical island of Cythera was a place of eternal love and youth. And this group of individuals has made a pilgrimage to the island. It recalls earlier French landscape paintings, but here the emphasis is very much on the people within it. They're portrayed rather elegantly and delicately. Even the men appear to move effortlessly on their feet. And Watteau emphasizes color and gesture. And the influence of hi Flemish roots can be seen in the fantastic rendering of material textures, such as this silk dress of the young woman in the front and the way sunlight reflects off of it.

Now there were actually two versions of this painting. The second one looks very similar to the first, except it has a lot more little Cupids zipping around overhead. Watteau's work has a hint of melancholy in it regarding the fading of happiness and youth that is present in other paintings, like Poussin's "Et in Arcadia Ego".

And speaking of melancholy, this particular painting was completed in 1717, only four years before his death at the young age of 37.

Francois Boucher was another very well known Rococo artist, due in parts to the early death of Watteau, as well as the patronage of Madame Pompadour, the famous mistress of King Louis XV. She commissioned this painting titled "The Toilet-- or toilet-- of Venus". Now as opposed to the American version of toilet, this refers to the French interpretation, which has to do with cleansing. The soft figures of Venus and her little blond haired and chubby Cupid seem almost luminescent against the heavy fabrics and gilded furniture where she relaxes. The depiction of figures from classical mythology at ease or play was a frequent theme in Boucher's work, which often explored playful and erotic scenes.

When I think of Rococo, I instantly think of this painting. Thematically and stylistically, I always felt that this painting truly defined the Rococo ideal. The painter, Jean-Honore Fragonard, was a student of Boucher's and continued many of the themes seen in Watteau's earlier work. Fragonard uses bright pink pastels to draw our eye immediately to the figure of the young woman swinging, the operation of which is being carried out by what's supposed to be an old bishop sort of hidden in the shadows to the right.

The woman's lover is stretched out in the lower left-hand corner. Interestingly enough, in a bush, or at least on the ground surrounded by a bush, and the young man is actually the patron of the painting and gestures adoringly at the young woman, who casually flicks off her shoe in the direction of the statue of a Cupid, in a hashing gesture with his finger to his lips. Oh, to be young and rich and French.

The portrait was another area that remained important as a form of painting during the Rococo. A number of very talented portraitists emerged during this time, including women such as the artist Elizabeth Vigee-LeBrun. Now this very famous painting by LeBrun, a portrait of Marie Antoinette, was commissioned by the young queen of Louis XVI. Although it's clearly depicting an aristocrat, or at least someone of means, the elaborate and decadent images we've become accustomed to with French royalty is absent here. It's a much more reserved depiction of the queen appearing to tend to flowers, and it was quite controversial at the time among her critics, if you can believe that, who felt it was improper to depict a queen in this fashion. It may have been Marie's attempt to reconcile with her unfavorable public image and connect with people. And if that was the case, it didn't help. She was publicly executed, along with her husband, by the public during the French Revolution in 1793.

Another Rococo painter of note from outside of France was the artist Thomas Gainsborough of England. He favored landscapes, which shows in his work, as the surrounding landscape seems to almost hold an equal amount of importance as the subject. As a portraitist, he was known as a grand manner painter who sought to elevate the viewer through a sense of elegance and refinement, while the soft appearance and feathery brush work is indicative of the Rococo style.

So that brings us to the end of this lesson. Let's take a look at our objectives to see how we did. Now that you've seen the lesson, are you able to identify and define today's key terms? Can you describe design elements of the Rococo? And can you identify examples of Rococo art?

And once again, the big idea for today is that Antoine Watteau's artwork is exemplary of the Rococo style in art, with its emphasis on shimmering color and celebration of youth, luxury, and love.

And that's it. Thank you very much for joining me. I'll see you next time.

Notes on "Rococo Art"

Key Terms

 

Fete Galante

A type of painting that developed during the Rococo period that depicts a party or other lighthearted scene taking place outdoors.

Satire

The use of sarcasm, ridicule emphasizing weakness more than the weak person, denouncing vice and folly and implying moral judgment.

Grand Manner Portraits

A style of portraiture that elevates the person depicted through references to classical and Renaissance art.

Citations

Watteau Return from Cythera; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:L%27Embarquement_pour_Cythere,_by_Antoine_Watteau,_from_C2RMF_retouched.jpg The Swing; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Fragonard_-_swing.jpg Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Gainsborough_014.jpg Mrs. Sarah Siddons; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Thomas_Gainsborough_015.jpg The Toilet of Venus; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Toilet_of_Venus,_by_Fran%C3%A7ois_Boucher.jpg Portrait of Marie Antoinette; Public Domain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:MA-Lebrun.jpg; Image of France Map Creative Commons http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:France_location_map-Regions_and_departements.svg

TERMS TO KNOW
  • Fete Galante

    A type of painting that developed during the Rococo period that depicts a party or other lighthearted scene taking place outdoors.

  • Satire

    The use of sarcasm, ridicule emphasizing weakness more than the weak person, denouncing vice and folly and implying moral judgment.

  • Grand Manner Portraits

    A style of portraiture that elevates the person depicted through references to classical and Renaissance art.