Comparing Rococo & Bourgeois Realism

Comparing Rococo & Bourgeois Realism
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  • 00:00 Art of Peasants and Kings
  • 00:42 The Rococo
  • 1:48 Bourgeois Realism
  • 4:20 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 styles of Rococo and Bourgeois Realism existed at the same time, but ended up looking very different. Find out why and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Art of Peasants and Kings

So, way back in the 18th century, there were regular people. Surprising, I know. A lot of the time in art, we don't get to talk about average people who lived on modest budgets because those people couldn't afford to commission the greatest masterpieces of art history. This means that not only do we not always pay attention to average people, but many times, artists didn't either. After all, they needed people to buy their art, so they often had to cater to the tastes of the rich. But every now and then, the rich wanted paintings of the poor. And when that happens, art gets a little more interesting.

The Rococo

Let's start by talking about the people of the 18th century who didn't want paintings of the poor. France in the early 1700s was the playground of the rich, characterized by the artistic style of the Rococo. Rococo styles embraced the attitudes of the wealthy; it was frivolous, playful, elegant, and often hedonistic with light colors and asymmetrical, swirling designs. Rococo paintings depicted people having countryside parties, called Fête galante scenes, or engaged in various lustful activities.

The Swing by Fragonard
The Swing

Look at this one, The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Seems innocent enough, right? But see that young man in the bushes below the girl? She is teasing him by kicking off her shoe at a statue of Cupid, giving him a strategic view of her dress. This was Rococo life. The wealthy French aristocrats wanted paintings of their society, and with their substantial vanity, also appreciated portraits that showed off their wealth, social status, and laid-back attitude.

Bourgeois Realism

Then came the Enlightenment. Many intellectuals and wealthy members of English society were troubled by the excesses of the rich and latched onto an idea presented by Jean-Jacques Rousseau that romanticized peasantry. Because of this, scenes of peasant life became a popular subject. We call this focus on peasant life with a morally-uplifting message Bourgeois Realism. The term 'Bourgeois' was a French word for the middle class and realism, of course, refers to the naturalistic appearance of the art. Bourgeois realist art used soft, earth tones and subtle designs that contrasted pretty strongly with the light, feathery frivolity of the Rococo.

One of the champions of Bourgeois Realism in France was Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin. I know, that's a lot of hyphens for one name. Anyway, at the same time that most French artists were painting scenes of lavish parties, Chardin was painting this. This one's called Woman Cleaning Turnips, painted around 1738

Woman Cleaning Turnips by Chardin
Woman Cleaning Turnips

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