Art Appreciation Topic VI: Rococo and Neoclassicism c.1710-c.1810
The Rococo style dominated European art for most of the 18th century. Superseding the Baroque movement, it emphasized elegance, frivolity, and decorative charm. It developed initially in France, but spread to most other parts of Europe. Rococo painters retained many of the themes that had been in vogue during the Baroque era, but treated them in a more light-hearted, playful and decorative manner. The Rococo style had a major impact on architecture, interior design, and the decorative arts, as well as painting.
Neoclassicism, meaning “new classicism,” was inspired by the art of classical Greece and Rome—specifically its qualities of “noble simplicity and calm grandeur.” It was the dominant style of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Neoclassical artists were often inspired by Greek and Roman history, literature, and myth, but they also treated many subjects, including portraits and landscapes, as well as themes from the political and social events of the time. In its purest form, Neoclassical art is severe and high-minded, but it also has more intimate and decorative aspects. It emphasizes order and clarity. It is often characterized as a stern reaction against the frivolity of the preceding Rococo idiom.
As the population of the British colonies grew and colonists amassed greater wealth, the demand for consumer and luxury goods surged. The desire for fine furniture, prints, and paintings not only spurred a rich overseas trade, but it also increasingly supported the work of local artists. Many colonial American artists were European-born and –trained, but European art centers also remained important destinations for aspiring American-born artists long after the War of Independence. The birth of the nation stimulated greater interest in public sculpture and history painting. Portrait painting flourished, and political heroes, such as George Washington, offered ready material.