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In this lesson, you will learn what Rococo art is and how to identify it based on its stylistic characteristics.

To bring the concept of Rococo to life, we will look at a few well-known paintings by famous Rococo artists. ​!!!What is Rococo?As much as the word ‘Rococo’ sounds like the opening line of Lady Gaga’s next hit single, it is actually a term used to describe a popular movement in art history. In this lesson, you will learn about the origins of Rococo art and what its defining characteristics are. We will also put the definition of the Rococo into practice by looking at a few examples of famous Rococo paintings.Rococo art emerged in France as a decorative art used in interior design and gardens, but painters began to adopt the style in the early eighteenth century.

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French royalty and the elite embraced artwork that celebrated love, leisure, and fashion in a way that was light, sumptuous, and even erotic. Rococo paintings decorated rooms in ornate homes of the aristocracy where members of high society would gather for intellectual discussions and entertainment. Though Rococo started in France, its influence quickly spread to artists and architects in England, Italy, and Germany.

Characteristics

How can you tell whether or not a painting is part of the Rococo movement? Rococo artists used loose brush strokes, pastel colors, and flowing lines and forms in their compositions, regardless of a painting’s subject matter. Many Rococo paintings are asymmetrical, meaning the design or overall composition is off-center. Each of these elements helps to create a sense of motion and playfulness within a painting.Rococo artists often painted mythological scenes set in utopian landscapes, portraits, and depictions of love.

The first Rococo painter, Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), was responsible for the creation of a new type of artistic category called amorous festival paintings, or fête galante. Fête galante paintings are depictions of aristocrats enjoying various forms of outdoor recreation in the countryside.Today, we find entertainment through television or movies. In a similar way, those who commissioned Rococo paintings wanted their artworks to be visual escapes that would help viewers forget about the mundane in life and celebrate leisure and pleasure.

Rococo Artists & Paintings

Jean-Antoine Watteau, The Pilgrimage to Cythera (1717), Louvre, Paris.
Watteau, The Pilgrimage to Cythera (1717)

Jean-Antoine Watteau’s masterpiece, The Pilgrimage to Cythera (1717), is the most famous example of a f;te galante painting.

The Pilgrimage depicts several couples who have journeyed together to Cythera, the idyllic place of love and eternal youth. A statue of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, emphasizes the painting’s amorous subject matter. The lush landscape, warm colors, and joyful subject matter seen in this painting appealed to the French elite.

Francois Boucher, Saint Peter Attempting to Walk on Water (1766), Cathedrale Saint-Louis, Versailles, France.
Boucher, Saint Peter Attempting to Walk on Water (1766)

Not all Rococo paintings were of the elite enjoying life in the countryside.

Saint Peter Attempting to Walk on Water (1766) by Francois Boucher (1703-1770) is one example of how the Rococo translates in religious paintings. The painting illustrates the story from Matthew 14:22-34 where Peter attempts to meet Jesus in the middle of the sea, but fails the moment he doubts Jesus. The asymmetrical composition helps the viewer’s eye to continually end up at the figure of Jesus. Boucher’s use of pastels and delicate brushwork balance the physical tension we see in the disciples, who are behind Peter, and the calm gaze between Peter and Jesus.

Jean-Honore Fragonard, The Swing (1767-1768), Wallace Collection, London.
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