The Rococo Style – Sophisticated and Yet Enchantingly Pretty

Detail Le Petit Dejeneur

Paris by 1720 was a city of narrow, noisy filthy and smelly streets surrounding the houses of wealthy owners accessed through alleyways, which were a public theatre where behaviour was shaped by inescapable promiscuity. In the great outdoors the design of the day was all about creating a scene where the art of pleasure could be conducted. A gardener was not expected to spend hours pruning so everything was controlled. He was encouraged to allow trees and shrubs to throw out sinuous arching graceful branches and to let old clipped hedges soften through purposeful neglect.

Bright pretty flowers were meant to provide bursts of colour, and each were a deliberate aspect of its essential element, for that of delight and surprise.

As women did not wear undergarments you can understand the look of pleasure on the face of the unknown nobleman who is celebrating the considerable charms of his mistress in The Swing, painted by French painter Jean Honore Fragonard (1732-1806).

He perfectly captured the mood of a new independent, rich, less discreetly immoral society who were clamouring for novelty and having fun.

A new decorative style emerged and became known as Rococo, as it writhed and wriggled its way into interiors all over France, Europe and England. The word Rococo derives from the word Rocaille, the name for the shell work and rockwork popular in garden grottoes during the reign of Louis XIV the Sun King.

The new style was delicately elegant, with a distinct preference for asymmetry. It was all about movement and above else it conveyed a mood and atmosphere of fancy, frivolity and fun.

Many of its designs were sophisticated and enchantingly pretty. A great deal of gold was required to highlight its use of bright clear colours.

This is the period when the art of pleasure first became a serious business.

Salon Hotel Soubise

During the seventeenth century the people’s allegiance had been to their sovereign and nation first, themselves and family secondary or last.

Louis XIV, the Sun King, practiced the divine right of kings decisively at Versailles.

The strict disciplines of order he imposed was reflected in the symmetrical disposition of architecture, interiors and contrived landscaping style.

When he died shortly before his 77th birthday on September 1715 Philippe, Duc d’Orleans became Regent over his grandson the future Louis XV and removed the French court and seat of government from Versailles to his residence the Palais Royale at Paris.

From there he presided over a peace in Europe that he helped bring about, which enabled Europe’s economies all to become buoyant.

He commissioned Parisian craftsmen to provide new and lavish surroundings and he set an example for that of a pleasure seeking lifestyle.

Architectural decoration in polychrome marble and gilt bronze gave way to painted and gilded paneled rooms whose design incorporated mirrors, chandeliers, sinuous lines, swags of flowers, gold, gold and even more gold with cute cupids, clasps and c and s scrolls.

Following his marriage in 1732 The Prince de Rohan commissioned German architect Germaine Boffrand (1667-1754) to design the lovely Hotel de Soubise.

It is a rare rococo style survival because the French have always had a predilection for changing fashion. Its beautiful boiserie, or paneled walls were composed of softly flowing sensuous shapes, which seemed to have no fixed points at all flowing rhythmically, just like the music of the times.

This dressing table is filled with Mennecy porcelain, and fittings of lacquered boxes (vernis martin) silver and glass. It came from a marchand mercier who had brought the fittings for it c1744-50.

This dressing table is filled with Mennecy porcelain, and fittings of lacquered boxes (vernis martin) silver and glass. It came from a marchand mercier who had brought the fittings for it c1744-50.

The Rococo style manifested itself in the decoration of intimate, luxurious, harmonious interiors that were a perfect setting for the enjoyment of a circle of intimate friends.

Poetry reading aloud questioned established mores, engendering intellectual discussion among friends and it became extremely fashionable.

Le Petite Dejeneur c1739 painted by artist Francois Boucher depicts a family sharing breakfast in a rococo styled room in a middle class house.

The furnishings are tasteful, but not really luxurious. The caned chairs are ready made, the carved console table installed with its rococo style panelling. The fashionable tea table was purchased from a marchand-mercier, a dealer in elegant accessories and trifles.

There is a look of care on the faces of the parents and the scene is one of delightful rococo informality pleasing to behold. After centuries of treating children as miniature adults, the aristocracy and haute bourgeouise were now rapidly changing their attitudes towards children.


Renoir: Mother and Child

Essays since Renaissance times, expounding the nature and nurturing of children were now being taken seriously. They would have ongoing consequences until the present day.

Working class children between the ages of ten and sixteen however still lived an adult existence. They were apprenticed early, obliged to help their parents with routine chores and knew the rhythms, constraints and rigors of a working life. Although not yet independent they belonged as much to the neighborhood as to their parents, serving as a link by delivering messages in the area where they lived.

In this way neighbors, artisans, merchants, curates, policemen all kept an eye on youngster’s growing up. Raising children became a community concern.

Chinoiserie by Francois Boucher

Francois Boucher was a designer for the Beauvais Tapestry Factory from 1734.

He was also supervisor of the Gobelins tapestry factory, where for some 15 years tapestries were produced, mainly from his designs.

His paintings and drawings and the designs after them had a strong influence on the decorative arts throughout Europe

Le Jardin Chinois is one of five pieces produced from cartoons by him.

The lady at her toilette is found in an exotic setting and this delightful scene was printed on textiles and reproduced in marquetry.

The use of tapestries on walls continued but was a far cry from the days when they were a textile, which was portable, and draped like one. Now they became part of the wall fixed onto battens.

Louis XVWhen Louis XV ascended the throne unlike his grandfather he had to share the limelight with his nobles and take notice of the thoughts and wishes of the bourgeoisie, or middle class. They were gaining an education, questioning established ideas of thought.

In this milieu women gained a voice presiding over the art of conversation and manners in their influential salons. Louis XV officially met his most impressive middle class mistress at a magnificent costume ball held in the Galerie des Glaces in February 1745 to celebrate the wedding of his son to Maria Teresa, daughter of Phillip V of Spain.

From the age of nine, when a fortune teller told her she would reign over the heart of a king, Jean Antoinette Poisson was known to her family as Reinette.

They married her off advantageously at seventeen and she promised her husband she would never leave him except for the King.

At the ball one of eight cleverly contrived yew tress was the king in fancy dress.

Madame d’Etioles appeared dressed as the Roman goddess of the hunt Diana and dropped her handkerchief as a single yew tree approached.

Although the scene was contrived, he feigned being charmed and picked it up signalling his choice to everyone.

Mme-de-Pompadour-by-VanlooThe Kings mistress had enormous power at court and no one would believe a member of the bourgeoisie could learn its political intricacies.

But carry them off she did and when her husband was told he fainted dead away.

Louis gave Jeanne the title Marquise de Pompadour, with the deeds to an estate of this name bearing her own coat of arms – three castles on an azure blue ground.

He removed the court from Paris to Versailles where as his acknowledged mistress she lived for twenty years influencing all the arts at France and the continuing use of the delightful Rococo style.

When her brother Abel became Louis’ Minister for the Arts he remarked that not one of her portraits was like her, so she remains an enigma to history in that respect.


Sevres; Rose Pompadour

From the moment of her arrival she directed and inspired everyone and everything including the delightful decoration and colours of Sevres porcelain.

She was the patron of many artists including her favourite painter Francois Boucher whose many images depict her as a sophisticated lady of impeccable style.

Her patronage of the fashionable style of her day ensured that it was an exercise of intellect and so much more than a sinuous line.

Jeanne-and-Abel-Poisson-(Mme-Pompadour)A painting with her brother depicts them discussing a model of the Petite Trianon a delightful pavilion to be built in the grounds of Versailles for her and the King.

It reveals in its architecture that she knew, before she tragically died aged 44 on the 15th April 1764 that an increasing interest in the ancient societies of Greece and Rome, as well as advances in science, would mean the emergence of a new, more serious but simply elegant classical design style.

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2010-2013


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