Instructor: Kristen Koblik
Art History 197
The Rococo Paintings: Revealing Optimism
The Rococo style of painting, a constituent of the Rococo movement in the 18th century, assimilated its characteristics with those of the Baroque era. However, the compositions that encompassed the Baroque period were considered rigid and pessimistic despite the era’s theme of Enlightenment. Therefore, out of the Baroque arts came the Rococo style of art. Rococo art resulted from the creation and innovation of novel ideas regarding human subsistence that differed considerably with those advocated for in the Baroque era (Griffin, 23). Thus, Rococo art is the visual depiction of the people’s optimism to their ideas. In order to assess Rococo art, it is important to analyze and compare illustrated paintings that can provide hindsight to the period in context.
The term, Rococo, originated from rocaille, which means rockwork or shell work. Originally, the fragments of rocky decoration found in architecture gave rise to the name. In this period, the artists mostly associated their painting with “a world of sensuous objects, things in miniature, ornamental decoration, and the intimate interiors of aristo” (Boime, 93). The Rococo artistic era was characterized by few but notable artists who were mostly based in France. Two of these artists were Francois Boucher and Jean-Honore Fragonard. Regarding Rococo style, Boucher and Fragonard were a few of the renowned Rococo artists of the 18th century. Their works, Vertumnus and Pomona in 1757 and The Meeting in 1771-73 respectively, are the illustrations that best portray the Rococo style of painting.
By analyzing and comparing both paintings, it is clear that the traits utilized in Rococo painting compositions are similar. The theme that indicates secret desires, as well as the same composition and painting technique that is genuinely associated to Rococo style both signify similarity between the two artworks. Typical Rococo painting is characterized mostly by the themes of unrequited love among the nobility, as opposed to the depiction of serious and indulgent behavior exemplified in Baroque compositions (Columbus Museum of Art, 2012). The painting, Vertumnus and Pomona, by Boucher illustrates the unreciprocated and prohibited desire between the god of seasons, Vertumnus and the goddess of orchard fruits, Pomona. The painting portrays Vertumnus disguised as an aged woman in order to be closer to Pomona without being noticed (Hyde, 87).
The Meeting by Fragonard is another painting that depicts the scene of secret love between a young man and a young woman. The young man is climbing up to the private garden to meet the woman he adores. The woman is anxious of being followed or watched by people. Both artists in their paintings create a well-arranged setting in the garden with many trees to indicate that the lovers seek to express their emotions in privacy. Therefore, Boucher and Fragonard have similarity regarding the theme of the paintings and succeed to engage the viewers by indicating two different instances centered on the theme of unrequited and clandestine love.
Delving on composition, both paintings are similar in the composition of objects in the paintings. The two paintings comprise three elements that are similar in both compositions. These objects are the Lover, the sculpture of Venus and the mythological creature, Putti. Most Boucher paintings include the putti, which in a modern context are known as the Cupid, regarded as the emblem of love (Essak, 2012). In Vertumnus and Pomona, The cupids soaring on top of Vertumnus and Pomona portray love between the two gods as Pomona accepts the love from Vertumnus. The statue at the center of the painting resembles the statue of Venus holding a leaf crown. The use of the Venus sculpture indicated Venus as a symbol of love and sexuality (Boime, 105). The Meeting also indicated the statue of Venus, as well as the Cupid, positioned beside each other. The Venus sculpture seems playful and joyful with the love of this couple. Thus, the composition on both paintings guides viewers in knowing the sense of the theme by including cupids and the statue of Venus statue as symbols of love.
Regarding painting, both artists achieved the Rococo painting technique by using light shade and a soft brush stroke to get fine detail on the object and background. According to the National Gallery of Art, (2012), typical Rococo painting was usually emphasized by using pastel colors, flowing curves, and many patterns such as flowers, vines, and shells in the composition. The soft tone technique helps the artist to illustrate the imaginative scene on the painting. Concerning, Vertumnus and Pomona, Boucher chose the soft brush stroke where the cupids are flying. The fine brush stroke helps the artist to get the fine detail on trees, flower, and especially the putti. He blends well by fading the cloud from the color of background, giving it a realistic view that they are flying while the cloud indicates their movement. The highlight and soft color on Pomona’s face illustrates the glow of Pomona’s beauty as well as the reason for Vertumnus love for the goddess. This technique is also similar and outstanding on Fragonard’s painting because the extreme highlight that shines on the young woman emphasizes her gesture and her facial expression (National Gallery of Art, 2012). The tone that both artists use affects the emotions of the viewer by viewing at the scene in the painting, which exudes the elegance of the young couple, making it seem like they live in a surreal world.
Additionally, both paintings indicate the basic idea encompassing Rococo art by showing the similarity expressed between the traits of the paintings, as well as the themes captured throughout the masterpieces. In comparison, the paintings utilize light emphasis to emphasize the tone of the subject matter. Since the archetypal theme regarding the Rococo paintings is about love and romance, both artists use light color to indicate and emphasize the romantic scenes revolving around the focus of the artworks. In addition, the placement of objects such as the Venus statue and the putti, also emphasize on the paintings’ theme. Moreover, the similar techniques that they use such as the fine brush stroke and extreme highlighting on the objects are commonly used in Rococo art to show the fine detail and to emphasis the focus on the painting (Boime, 245).
The Rococo paintings, as well as other artworks, marked the climax and demise of the Baroque era. Moreover, artists such as Boucher marked the change into the period of Romanticism by using other techniques that indicated the themes and styles of the Romanticism period. Nevertheless, the Rococo styles were purely optimistic compositions that sought to reveal the other side of the aristocracy, a side that many never witnessed.
“18th-Century France: The Rococo and Watteau.” 18th-Century France: The Rococo and Watteau. National Gallery of Art, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.
“Earth: Vertumnus and Pomona.” Earth: Vertumnus and Pomona. Columbus Museum of Art, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.
Boime, Albert. Art in an Age of Revolution: 1750 – 1800. Chicago, Illinois: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2006. Print.
Esaak, Shelly. Putti. About.com Art History, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2012.
Griffin, J. Baroque and Rococo. London: Thames and Hudson, 2002. Print.
Hyde, Melissa L. Making Up the Rococo: Franc?ois Boucher and His Critics. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Research Institute, 2006. Print.