Rococo artists and craftsman used elegance and asymmetrical design to be playful, light and glorious in their design choices. (Photo courtesy DeeDee Wood)

by DeeDee Wood

What is Rococo Style? How did it influence furnishings and decorative art? Style usually is influenced by the history and tastes of a region, and Rococo is decidedly French, branching out to other countries as it left its mark.
Rococo was an 18th century French artistic movement that affected the arts, which would include architecture, sculpture, design, décor, music, writing and literature, theatre, and of course, art.
This style developed in Paris, France as a counter reaction to symmetry, regulations and the grandeur of the Baroque style, that had for so long dominated this part of the world.
Rococo artists and craftsman used elegance and asymmetrical design to be playful, light and glorious in their design choices. Replacing strict structure and exacting conformity, Rococo style had curves, spontaneity, grace and wit.
The word “Rococo” comes from the French “rocaille” which refers to the small mosaic rock work found in quaint French grottoes, a whimsical outside decoration that used fake caves in garden schemes, lavishly decorated inside with small shells, stones and pebbles.
In furniture design, much gilding and gold was used, as well as embellishments, floral motifs, playful themes and ornate concepts.
Every square inch of a Rococo piece of furniture was designed to be whimsical, fluid, fun and beautiful. Light colored pastels, whites and gold were predominate colors in this style.
Asymmetrical design was the main theme of Rococo, using shapes of the “C” and “S” liberally.
Rich mahogany woods were used for the exotic, frivolous properties, a hallmark of Rococo.
In decorative spaces, Rococo artists used witty, playful themes, with cherubs, fantasy tales and colorful depictions of history.
The style was ornate, and the entire room was the canvas. The artists and designers of the time period wanted one to feel that walking into a room was walking into a work of art.
Sculptures, mirrors, architecture, furniture, reliefs and paintings, all in the Rococo style, were used to achieve this goal.
Mirrors were also used to give the illusion of more space, and to create light and elegance in a room.
Rococo style was strongly influenced by Chinoiserie, a European interpretation and imitation of East Asian artistic traditions.
Rococo style included the character of Chinoiserie, such as asymmetry, stylized nature and pleasure of nature and whimsy.
This style’s themes, whether it be a mirror, furniture piece, architecture or painting, include ideals such as love, classical literature, whimsy and playfulness.
Some of the most famous salons in France that employed this style were Salon de Monsieur le Prince in the Petit Chateau at Chantilly, decorated by Jean Aubert, and the salons in the Hotel Soubise, Paris, decorated by Germain Boffrand.
Both of these salons are examples of typical Rococo high-style.
The decorative arts also had great masters.
Antoine Watteau is considered to be the first great Rococo painter who influenced later masters of Rococo, such as Boucher and Fragonard.
In sculpture, Etienne-Maurice Falconet is considered a fine example of Rococo sculpting. Rococo sculpture used porcelain instead of marble, to lighten the look.
Rococo style was a reaction to strict rules and conformity that represented an earlier Baroque period in France.
Creating light, movement, fantasy and expression opened up a whole new world of creativity, influence and freedom for the artists who lived in the Rococo period in France.
Rococo style and the artists who created it helped these ideas and concepts spread through Europe, and eventually it was replaced by other style movements as tastes changed and art and design took perpetual new turns in style.
(Editor’s note: DeeDee Wood is the store manager at Tharpe Antiques, in Easton, part of the Talbot Historical Society.)