Rococo: Graceful Exuberance
Gallery 2 | June 2016 - 2017 - 18 August 2018
The title of the exhibition reflects David’s ideal notion of beauty, whether it be the physical object or attributes of a person. Rococo’s more relaxed and informal style owed a debt to nature which suited David’s desire to bring the garden in doors. He took delight in filling a myriad of Rococo cache pots and planters with flowering plants. Not surprisingly, the Rococo style is well-represented through furniture, porcelain, metalware, paintings and sculpture.
David’s Régence, Side table, 1720s, is a remarkable transitional example of French Rococo. Its curves, scrolls, foliage decoration and shell-like motif are typical of the style, but slightly subdued compared to later examples. Similarly, the table’s formal symmetry was replaced in the 1730s to 1760s, by overt asymmetry. This difference becomes apparent when viewing an Armchair, c.1750, from Germany. Carved and gilded, this chair shows the full splendour of the rococo style with its curvaceous lines and rocaille decoration.
While the Rococo movement was centred in France, its influence was felt across Europe in the mid-eighteenth century. The style found a willing partner in British porcelain manufacturers of which David collected many pieces. Displayed are a superb Pair of bough-pots, c.1770, by Worcester, in underglaze-blue and decorated with ‘fancy’ birds. Equally impressive are a pair of Chelsea Figural candlesticks, c.1765, of putti with garlands of flowers, standing on scrolling bases and holding aloft elaborate candlesticks. The French, however, maximised the potential of combining expensive materials. The Louis XV Inkstand, c.1750, is a fine example – the tray is made from amaranth and tulip-wood, Sevres porcelain serves as receptacles and Mennecy porcelain, the shepherdess. All mounted in lavish ormolu.
Rococo art was dominated by the French although some English artists took note. Amongst the display is Francis Cotes’ Mrs George Rogers, 1768, illustrating the new preference for portraiture set outdoors, within nature. Here she holds an elaborate rococo watering can and tends to an exotic Indian lily. Taken in its entirety, Rococo: Graceful Exuberance offers a glimpse of the luxury, frivolity and lightness of mid-eighteenth century art.
Image: Germany, Armchair (Fauteuil), c.1750, Germany, gilt-wood, silk upholstery (replacement).