March 26, 2021 | Galerie Atena
Rocaille ornament, often referred to in opposition to the antique, appeared in the Baroque Europe and developed to the point of transforming the very structure of furniture and objects. The items in the collection of Galerie Atena, designed between 1720 and 1890, highlight the extraordinary vigor of this ornamental grammar and its power of renewal for more than a century. The spontaneity of an inspiration free of symmetry and formal rules is visible in carved furniture, while the extreme sophistication of the compositions is revealed in small pedestal tables, clocks, lighting and collectibles.
Rocaille, in Western architecture and decorative arts, is an ornamentation developed in the 18th century and characterized by sinous foliate forms inspired by nature (shells, rocks, foliage, scroll motifs...).
Rocaille is the title given to a print made in 1737 by the French architect and engraver Claude Augustin Duflos le Jeune (1703-1770), after François Boucher. This print is the only one of a series of four prints, that does not include any human representation. Instead, it features a sophisticated assemblage of shells and plants, with a garden in the background. The composition is asymmetrical, exuberant and picturesque. Each element is inspired by nature but transformed by the artist's imagination.
Rocaille took its name from the mixture of rock and seashell that was used to create a picturesque effect in grottos. But the interest for shells in France in the 18th century was also due to the development of natural history collections and cabinets of curiosities, filled with rare and singular objects: fosils, lightning stones, stuffed animals, shells, herbariums, among many others... Artists were inspired by the most picturesque shells and those with the most irregular forms, such as the Murex - used to extract purple, or the Chicoreus.
Rocaille style was a French style of opulent decoration, composed of an abundance of curves, counter-curves, undulations and elements modeled on nature, that appeared in furniture and interior decoration during the early reign of Louis XV of France (1723-1750). The exuberant compositions featured shells, geological elements, flowing acanthus, falling foliage and floral motifs crafted of wood, bronze and Meissen porcelain. It began in about 1720, reached its peak in the 1730s, and came to an end about 1770, when it was replaced by Neoclassicism.
Rococo movement, overloaded with ornaments, spread to Central and Western Europe. In France, the artists who practiced it - the ornamentalists Juste Aurèle Meissonnier (1695-1750) and Jean Bérain (1640-1711), the sculptors and chiselers Jacques Caffieri (1673-1755) and Jean-Claude Duplessis (c. 1690-1774) created original models, full of fantasy and picturesque, going against the haviness and formality of Louis XIV style.
Rocaille style spread to England, Germany, Italy, Spain, Bavaria and Austria by the mid-18th century. In England, it influenced the Chippendale style (1754-1770). In Germany, it became popular thanks to François de Cuvilliés (1695-1768), a French-trained architect and ornament designer, who produced in Munich masterpieces of the Bavarian rococo. In Italy, the Serenissima adopted Rococo style in a theatrical way, visible in the decoration of this pair of giltwood Venetian mirrors. In Spain, Austria and Bavaria, the late Baroque exacerbated asymmetry and sinuous curves.
In France, by contrast with other European countries such as England, Rocaille style was established until the revival of Neoclassicism and Greek style. Rocaille aesthetic was then replaced by the new phylosophy of a "regeneration of the arts" inspired by Rome, Herculaneum and Athens.
After the neoclassical episode, rocaille style was revived by the historicist movement, which found its inspiration in the past eras. The styles of the Ancien Régime - Louis XV style in particular, were widely imitated during the Second Empire. From the middle of the 19th century, craftsmen and cabinetmakers designed pieces of furniture and objets d'art in Louis XV style, such as this giltwood fire screen, intricately carved with rocaille and foliate decoration, or this pair of rocaille sconces, richly decorated with flowing and asymmetrical foliage.
Fashionable from the 1720s, rocaille spread to all fields, but it found its most striking expansion in goldsmithing, tableware, ceramics and interior decoration. Baroque productions of Meissen manufactory are a perfect example for ceramics. For silverware, rocaille ornaments adorn shell-shaped boxes, candleholders and sconces, andirons, chandeliers, snuffboxes... These small objects, as well as drawings and prints, contributed to the success of the style.
In furniture, rocaille decoration must create astonishment. Asymmetrical, sinuous, curved, it is composed of shells and other jagged natural forms, winged cartouches, shell-shaped palmettes, openwork shells, mascarons and scrolling feet. Commodes, consoles tables and desks are decorated with exuberant cartouches, falling foliage, scrolling foliate and gadrooned leaves. This decor was widely imitated in the 19th century, in order to create Louis XVI or Louis XV-style interiors.