Rococo Revival

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 of the 19th century. The architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt was a major advocate for the style, and he created Rococo Revival rooms for the Duchess of Rutland and the Duke of York, among others. Artists such as Jules-Robert Auguste, R. P. Bonington, Eugène Delacroix and Paul Huet imitated Watteau and other Rococo artists in their own work.

The Charleston Book
(Samuel Hart, 1845)

The 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.

pbw00517 - detail of rocaille
The American Lady's Every Day Hand-Book of Modern Letter Writing
(H. F. Anners, 1847)
pbw00486- detail of C-scroll
The Gift: A Christmas and New Year's Present for 1840
(Carey and Hart)






Search the PBO database for Rococo Revival

"Rococo Revival." Dictionary of Art. Edited by Jane Turner. New York: Grove, 1996. (online version is available at some colleges and universities)

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