Poetry and Prose
(A. Tompkins, 1850)
The Rococo style was an offshoot of the Baroque era that developed first in France in the early 18th century during the reign of Louis the XV. It was a light and playful decorative style that celebrated pleasure and sensuality, particularly through a lavish exploration of organic form. Decorators broke down the mass of walls, furniture and household objects through the use of curves and delicate naturalistic ornaments. The paintings of Jean-Antoine Watteau and Jean-Honoré Fragonard are indicative of the mischievous mood of the style.
Beginning in the 1820s and 30s there
was a revival of Rococo, which began with patronage by
the wealthy elite. To them,
Rococo represented the aristocratic culture and status
of the past in contrast to the rising middle class power
the 19th century. The architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt was
a major advocate for the style, and he created Rococo
rooms for the Duchess of Rutland and the Duke of York,
among others. Artists such as Jules-Robert Auguste, R.
Eugène Delacroix and Paul Huet imitated Watteau
and other Rococo artists in their own work.
The Charleston Book
(Samuel Hart, 1845)
public gained exposure to Rococo in a number of ways. As
a result of the French Revolution, a great deal of French
art was dispersed onto the international market, increasing
opportunities to collect Rococo art. Sources such as John
Weale's Old French and English Ornaments reproduced
18th century designs for copying. The style was very popular
in the decorative arts of the time, and manufacturers produced
a lot of furniture and other household objects in this
fashion, though often without a great deal of concern for
historical accuracy. Evidence from the Great Exhibition
in London of 1851 suggests that Rococo revival was one
of the dominant commercial styles of the mid-century, but
by the 1860s it was declining in popularity.
Hal's Travels in Europe,
Egypt, and the Holy Land
(J. B. M'Ferrin, 1861)
Rococo revival was popular on publishers'
bindings from the 1840s through the 1860s. The lavishness
and sentiment of
the style worked well for gift books and albums, which were
marketed particularly by their decorated covers. Rococo revival
covers are recognizable by the trademark gold stamped natural
ornaments like C and S curves, shellwork, leafy forms and
the presence of sentimental scenes and figures.
- detail of rocaille
The American Lady's Every Day Hand-Book of Modern Letter Writing
(H. F. Anners, 1847)
detail of C-scroll
The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present
(Carey and Hart)
Search the PBO database
for Rococo Revival
Duncan, Carol. The Pursuit of Pleasure: The Rococo Revival
in French Romantic Art.
New York: Garland Publishing, 1976.
Jervis, Simon. High Victorian Design. Ottawa: National Gallery
of Canada, c1974.
"Rococo Revival." Dictionary of Art. Edited by
Jane Turner. New York: Grove, 1996.
(online version is available at some colleges and universities)