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Comparing French & English Rococo Art

Comparing French & English Rococo Art
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  • 0:01 France, England, and…
  • 1:00 The Rococo in France
  • 2:45 The Rococo in England
  • 4:35 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

The French had Rococo art. So did the English. In this lesson, you'll find how this style was understood differently in each nation. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

France, England, and the Rococo

People in both France and England eat beef. And, actually, for most of history, they ate the same beef, which was raised in England because the climate produced better grass. But this doesn't mean that French and English cuisine was the same. In fact, at some points, the differences between French and English chefs became pretty heated. The French even called English cuisine the art of ruining good meat. So, despite the fact that they used the same product, their tastes were very different. In this case, literally, but the idea applies to art as well.

People in different areas of the world can experience the same artistic style in very different ways. One example is the Rococo, an 18th-century artistic movement dedicated to luxury and frivolity that originated in France and moved to England. The Rococo appeared in several countries, but it was never quite the same in any two places.

The Rococo in France

The Rococo first appeared in France near the beginning of the 18th century, after King Louis XIV died while his heir was still too young to rule. This meant that for several years, aristocrats had a large amount of power and devoted themselves to…themselves. They built large homes, spent fortunes on elaborate parties, and filled their lives with the finest furniture, decorations, and objects that featured soft, playful, organic designs. This was the origin of the Rococo - interior designs. In fact, the term Rococo actually comes from the French word Rocaille, which is a seashell pattern used to decorate homes and gardens. Rococo furniture and decorations were intricate and ornate but generally maintained a softness through the use of light, airy colors.

It wasn't long until the Rococo style of interior designs made its way into painting. Jean-Antoine Watteau was the first artist to really dedicate his paintings to the Rococo style, creating idyllic scenes of countryside parties that were light, airy, and whimsical. Rococo painting became a major focus of French artists, who ignored the social problems of the French peasantry and dedicated their canvases to scenes of young, wealthy aristocrats living it up.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard was another painter whose style captured the attitudes of the French Rococo, depicting scenes that rejected typical ideas of morality for playful hedonism, lust, and irresponsibility. Portraiture was also very popular during the French Rococo, which, considering that art was being directed by the rich and vain, really isn't that surprising. Overall, the French Rococo was defined by tastes that were lavish, delicate, and elegant.

The Rococo in England

The lighthearted frivolity of the Rococo quickly spread out of France and across continental Europe. Then it jumped the channel into England. Of the countries to embrace the Rococo, England really paid the least attention to French styles and techniques. In fact, lots of English Rococo architecture looks kind of like this. It's a bit different, right?

English Rococo architecture differed greatly from the French Rococo style
A building of the English Rococo style

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