A Taste of Rococo

Rococo was an exuberantly decorative 18th-century European style which was the final expression of the baroque movement. It pushed to the extreme the principles of illusion and theatricality, an effect achieved by dense ornament, asymmetry, fluid curves, and the use of white and pastel colours combined with gilding,
The Rococo style of architecture and decoration began in France in the first part of the 18th century in the reign of Louis XV as a reaction against the more formal and geometric Style Louis XIV.
The derivation of the word is a combination of “rocaille”, a style distinguished by the use of shells as in a grotto,  and “baroque”.
Rococo artists and architects used a more jocular, florid, and graceful approach to the Baroque, with playful and witty themes. The interior decoration of Rococo rooms was designed as a total work of art with elegant and ornate furniture, small sculptures, ornamental mirrors, and tapestry complementing architecture, reliefs, and wall paintings.


Interior of the Salon de la Princesse, in the Hôtel de Soubise, Paris


Charles Cressent, Commode, 1730, Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire, UK


Jean-Honoré Fragonard, L’Escarpolette, c1767, oil on canvas, 81 × 64 cm, Wallace Collection, London, UK

This work by Fragonard is probably one of the first paintings that comes to mind when thinking about the rococo period.


Antoine Watteau, L’Embarquement pour Cythère, c1719, oil on canvas, 120 x 190 cm, Schloss Charlottenburg, Berlin, Germany

This style of “frivolous” painting soon became the target of the philosophers of the Enlightenment, who demanded a more serious art which would show the nobility of man.


Gustaf Lundberg, Portrait of François Boucher, 1741, pastel on blue paper, 65 x 50, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

François Boucher, 1703-1770, is known for his idyllic and voluptuous paintings on classical themes, decorative allegories, and pastoral scenes. He was perhaps the most celebrated painter and decorative artist of the 18th century. He also painted several portraits of his patroness, Madame de Pompadour.
The Goncourt brothers wrote: “Boucher is one of those men who represent the taste of a century, who express, personify and embody it.”
One of Boucher’s most quoted remarks is that nature is “trop verte et mal éclairée”


François Boucher, Portrait de la Marquise de Pompadour, 1756, oil on canvas, 201 x 157 cm, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Germany

Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, 1721-1764, commonly known as Madame de Pompadour, was a member of the French court and was the official chief mistress of Louis XV from 1745 to 1751, and remained influential as court favourite until her death. She took charge of the king’s schedule and was a valued aide and advisor, despite her frail health and many political enemies. She secured titles of nobility for herself and her relatives, and built a network of clients and supporters.
She was a major patroness of architecture and decorative arts, especially porcelain.
Louis XV remained devoted to Pompadour until her death from tuberculosis. Louis nursed her through her illness. Even her enemies admired her courage during the final painful weeks. Voltaire wrote: “I am very sad at the death of Madame de Pompadour. I was indebted to her and I mourn her out of gratitude. It seems absurd that while an ancient pen-pusher, hardly able to walk, should still be alive, a beautiful woman, in the midst of a splendid career, should die at the age of forty-two.”

The following five paintings are typical of the work of Boucher, and are chosen because each contains a similar image


François Boucher, Les Caresses dangereuses, 1730-32, oil on canvas, 80 x 65 cm, Private Collection



François Boucher, A Young Woman taking a Foot Bath, 1766, oil on canvas, 53 x 42 cm, Private Collection


François Boucher, La Modiste, 1746, oil on canvas, Wallace Collection, London, UK


François Boucher, La Toilette, 1742, oil on canvas, 53 x 67 cm, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain


François Boucher, La Belle villageoise, 1732, oil on canvas, 41 x 31 cm, Private Collection

And the link…


As shown above, Mme de Pompadour was the principal mistress of Louis XV. She became the confidante and advisor tot he king, and was a great influence upon him.
Louis had many petites maîtresses, among whom was Louis O’Murphy.

Left, François Boucher, Girl Resting, 1751, oil on canvas, 60 x 74 cm, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Cologne, Germany
and right, François Boucher, Louise O’Murphy c. 1752, oil on canvas, 59 x 73 cm, Alte Pinakothek, Munich, Germany

Louise O’Murphy, at fifteen years old, a petite maîtresse of Louis XV, unlike Mme de Pompadour, who was maîtresse en titre. Marie-Louise’s parents are known to have had a  criminal record: Daniel Morfi was involved in a case of espionage and blackmail, while Marguerite Iquy was accused of prostitution and theft.
The circumstances of the presentation of Louise to Louis XV are unknown, but it is thought that the inner circle of Mme de Pompadour herself was responsable for the acquisition of the petites maîtresses. Her brother, the Marquis de Marigny had been shown the 1751 portrait, who in turn presented it to the king.

Louis took her as one of his mistresses. She soon became one of his favourites, and had a daughter, Agathe. After only two years at court, a marriage was arranged for her and she was sent away. After the death of her first husband, she married twice more.


François Boucher, L’Odalisque brune, c1754, oil on cavas, 54 x 65 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

The date of the painting is disputed, and it is not certain whether it was painted before or after the portraits of Louise. The model was probably the artist’s wife, Marie-Jeanne (Buzeau).

Autres temps, autre moeurs…

A pillar of rectitude, Berthe Morisot, and a farmer’s daughter aged sixteen

Left, Berthe Morisot, Baigneuse, 1891, oil on canvas, Private Collection
and right, Berthe Morisot, Nue allongée, bergère, 1891, oil on canvas. 58 x 86 cm, Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain

BT, Meeting No25, 18 September, 2018