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Rococo Art



the Bolt


Rococo art, which flourished in France and Germany in the early 18th century, was in many respects a continuation of the Baroque, particularly in the use of light and shadow and compositional movement. Rococo, however, is a lighter, more playful style, highly suited to the decoration of, for example, the Parisian hôtels (city residences of the nobility).

Among rococo painters, Jean-Antoine Watteau is known for his ethereal pictures of elegantly dressed lovers disporting themselves at fêtes galantes (fashionable outdoor gatherings); such pastoral fantasies were much emulated by other French artists. Highly popular also were mythological and pastoral scenes, including lighthearted and graceful depictions of women, by François Boucher and Jean Honoré Fragonard. J. B. S. Chardin, however, took a different view, portraying women in his genre scenes as good mothers and household managers; he also was outstanding in rendering still-life.

The rococo style in Germany is exemplified by the work of the Italian painter Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, who spent some time in Würzburg, Germany; his huge illusionistic ceiling frescoes (1743-1752) decorate the staircase hall and the Kaisersaal (the main reception hall) of the Residenz, the episcopal palace in Würzburg.

Paralleling the rococo tradition of the continent were the works of three major artists of 18th-century England. William Hogarth was known for his moralistic narrative paintings and engravings satirizing contemporary social follies, as in his famous series (first painted and then engraved) Marriage à la Mode (1745), which traces the ruinous course of marriage for money. Thomas Gainsborough and Sir Joshua Reynolds, following the tradition established by van Dyck, concentrated on portraits of the English aristocracy. The verve and grace of these paintings and their astute psychological interpretations raise them from mere society portraiture to an incomparable record of period manners, costumes, and landscape moods.


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