Rococo, rolls off the tongue. Ro-co-co … ooh, how I love it.
I am going look at its style, features and the all important: ‘rococo now’.
Mainstream-Rococo conjures up Fragonard’s infamous painting of ‘the swing’, the cuckold husband sending his young wife higher while the lover enjoys the view.
Well for me – there’s 2 Rococo elements – fact and spirit.
Rococo ‘factually’ is a ‘once upon a time’ design period, you know: dates, key players, strong visual motifs, innovative design ideas and signature shapes. A high point in furniture design and exquisitely crafted, it’s highly valued today.
There is also Rococo ‘spirit‘: just as we all know a Becky Sharp, Edward Collins or a Lydia Bennet. She is is chic, maybe a little frivolous, but always cheering. Damned by her critics as empty of meaning: for departing from THE classical principles, which define European’s decorative arts in so many way, Rococo continues to enthrall.
So let’s celebrate creativity out of the box, with Rococo’s most extra-ordinary (unseen) moment below.
This was proposed for the top of Champs Elysees in 1758 – but the Arc de Triomphe triumphed. (Surely it came to celluloid-life in Moulin Rouge’s elephantine dressing room)
For me, Maureen Footer an 18th C expert , explains its eternal appeal best (in conversation with Emily Eerdman Evans):
“Do you have a favorite period style?
Louis XV. It was a sophisticated, intellectually curious, and lighthearted time relative to the more rigid, formal era of Louis XIV and the deeply troubled time of Louis XVI. I can’t look at the furniture of the Louis XVI era, even some exquisite piece by Riesener, without feeling a foreboding of events to come. Louis XIV design is grand and balanced, but lacks the joie de vivre so inherent in the time of Louis XV. Louis XV design was characterized by the use of the sensual French curve, the rocaille. Rooms became more intimate and scaled to human life, more suitable to conversation, intellectual exchange, and human interaction. We find the loveliest, most optimistic colors during this time—the beautiful roses, blues, greens that we still see mirrored in Sevrès porcelain.”
Madame de Pompadour’s newly renovated apartments at Versailles
“Furniture responded to the rooms and social climate, becoming smaller, more luxurious, more comfortable, more adapted to human use. The design elements were just perfect– marquetry is exquisitely rendered and fanciful, often floral or the elegant diaper (aka lattice) pattern; ormolu mounts are curvy, flowing, sensual . How can you not adore a period which produced Bernard van Risenburgh, Vandercruse-dit-La Croix, and Migeon, the most restrained, elegant craftsman of all?”
Maureen Footer’s most prized possession, a Louis XV commode, signed by Migeon.
An overview of Rococo Facts: (yawning? know it all? you could skip on down to ‘Modern Rococo – whose got it’ )
It is the Design Period in Louis XV’s France which extended across fashionable Europe, developing into the ‘genre pittoresque': a flowing, naturalistic style.
British court dress 1740, swirling, asymetrical embroidery of flowers, rising from a hem line of silver shells
The star of the show is below, Madame de Pompadour painted by Boucher in 1757.
Rococo the name: the ‘Genre Pittoresque’ became ‘Rococo’ in the 19th C: Rocaille and Coquille (rock and shell) is derived from the fanciful grottoes designed at Versailles, which inspired the leap from Baroque formality.
the Interior style: Rooms were designed as total works of art, which escaped rigid architectural lines, it was designer and craftsmen led. I also rather like that Rococo was the first real mix’n’match movement, embracing different design styles with great panache e.g. chinoiserie
the motifs and shapes: on top of those shell and rocks….
flowing, sinuous and assymetrical, fanciful arabesque and grotesque motifs
lavish ‘S’ and ‘C’ scrolls, extravagent curved shapes: think – kidney, bombé, cabriole legs
pastoral scenes, flowers, putti, musical trophies and the exotic: Chinoiserie and with it lacquer
Louis XV commode, chinoiserie design, lacquer with ormolu mounts
Linnel’s design for chinoiserie chair 1753
Fashionable Sevres porcelain, Louis VX himself would host grand sales (ultimate brand endorsement?)
Madame de Pompadour would ensure a collection of wonderful flowers (including exotic rare blooms) were at home to entertain the king. She commissioned fantastic porcelain creations and their corresponding scents. Rumour has it, that the first time she did this, she ‘planted’ them in the pre-scented garden and royally surprised him when he picked one.
I rather fantasise about these and the peak of chic featured an unsurprisingly chic, modern version.
Now then… Rococo Interior Features:
Rooms scale down and ‘activitity rooms’ emerge: the music room, reading room. Boiseried walls: wooden panels are carved and often gilded and framed with decorative mouldings spilling over . Corners and ceilings often become rounded.
Floors are parquet with plenty of Aubusson carpets, upholstered Furniture becomes hugely comfortable in velvets, damasks, silks and cottons. Wooden furniture is light, elegant, movable and often newly invented eg. the chaise longue and geuridon. Further secret compartments and hidden details to delight wealthy patrons are in some of the finest pieces..
The music room from Norfolk House, with elaborate gilded boiserie
Madame de Pompadour’s Salon Chinois, 1740 France, decorated by Christophe Huet
The ‘new’ Chaise longue in situ at Champs sur Marne
In the 18th C educated, time-rich aristocrats wanted to be amused and be amusing, France was the design capital. Rococo reaches out past the Parisian salons and gilded court to fairy tale German castles, Gustavian Sweden, Chippendale London and beyond: its a big subject. There are plenty of on-line resources, from the museums: V and A, the Wallace Collection, the Louvre, to the more personal, I rather like the amazing Lessing Collection of Rococo images, Madame de Pompadour and Touchwoods.
Why is it still relevant? Rococo’s talks to 21st Century style makers, not only are its original designs highly sought after, its been inspirational ever since. Many of its characteristics are relevant today: wit and beauty, sensual organic shapes, comfort, mix’n’match and of course rule breaking innnovation.
To reference rococo with authority, you need to know it, then enjoy it – Lladro macarroons, de Gournay’s Chinoiserie, Aubusson carpets, ‘the line of beauty’, bombé commodes, Bad Cinderella movies and Pompadour pink – yes, they all reference Rococo.
De Gournays famous chinoiserie wallpaper, complete with rococo mirror
So modern Rococo - Whose Got it? Unsurprisingly it’s fashionable types and sophisticated decorative art’s specialists who spring to my mind:
Isabella Blow, Nanette Lepore, Aerin Lauder, Sisley executive Christine D’Ornano, Amy Fine Collins, Maureen Footer, Alex Swanson of Swanson Vineyards, Hamish Bowles have all created modern schemes with that embrace Rococo elements. Below are 3 of my favourites.
Christine D’Ornano, featured in Elle Decor
I Love this room, to me it’s a perfect example of modern rococo. At the begining of this article, I defined Rococo as having ‘fact and ‘spirit’. The commodes that frame the fireplace, the kidney shape coffee table are ‘fact’. Then the ‘spirit’ is there: in the asymmetrical balance, playful elements – wire rabbits, neon artwork, Joe Colombo swivel chair (far right) and of course it’s comfortable, glamorous and casual – quite a feat.
Isabella Blow, World of Interiors, transformed ‘a dull banker’s flat’. Oh boy.
Feminine, exotic, grand, playful – its a potent roco-cocktail with plenty of Pompadour pink. As for the vintage mirror ball, I am sure Madame would have loved it.
Amy Fine Collins has a New York interior that sweeps me off my feet, I am kind of (read totally) obsessed by it:
The bedroom has hand painted ‘diamond’ walls with coral trim (hmmm), soft striped floor and that cabinet is vintage Jean Michel Frank (once owned by Horst). These elements off-set the uber-feminine: chaise lounge, curved bedhead (spot the shell highlight), lashings of rasberry velvet, ‘gold dust’ murano lamp and romantic screen. I’d kick off my heels too…
after I’d tripped in from THE dressing room…..
Louis XV style desk (one owned by Hugh Hefner – some pert bottoms have sat on that), walls painted in homage to Billy Balwdin’s ‘coromandel brown’, Giacometti-style table lamp, biedermier chair with vintage leopard skin – and a bursting rolodex. This is one of rooms that burns in my brain, I think I am going to homage it, and feel fabulous everyday.
A 1930’s Serge Roche moment: palm uplighters rise out of the rocks with trompe l’oiel versions behind, these frame the palm console (natch) and mirror …. plus grotto chairs! Rococo glory via 30’s sur-realism , my kind of heaven. (the 30’s really embraced the Rococo spirit – see Cecil Beaton’s Ashcombe House)
The sitting room: damask fauteuil and grotto chairs, Venetian rococo mirror, shell fire-dogs peaking out etc. all say rococo. The Bagués wall lights, Helena Rubinstein lucite chair and 70’s pucci rug all pack a modern punch.
Let’s end in the dining room complete with plaster shell wall lights (unseen here, look below)…
Once again there’s a playful sur-realist moment to this space, the delicate arrow-head chairs pierce the rug which seems to morph into the striped wallpaper, then there’s that casual-chic groupings of chairs and painting. Light and elegant; just waiting for champagne and macaroons really.
Amy stands in front of a gentle-rainbow enfilade, these rooms are a feast for the senses. She explains,’ I’ve never had a plan it always been about the object…it’s a collection of friends’. This lady knows and loves the arts.
I could go on, but for me Amy Fines Collins just can’t be topped, so I sign off on modern Rococo. These interiors illustrate how knowledge can’t be bought and why using period pieces with intelligence and wit creates such satisfyingly nuanced spaces. Indeed, in true fairy tale style – the ‘Once upon a time’ Rococo will keep on inspiring and being desirable to stylish types for ‘ever-after’.