18th-century French art  

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Image:Rape of the Sabine Women by David.jpg
The Intervention of the Sabine Women (1796-99, detail) by Jacques-Louis David

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
French Rococo, French Neoclassicism

The visual arts of the 18th century were highly decorative and oriented toward giving pleasure, as exemplified by the Regency Style and Louis XV Style, and the paintings of François Boucher, Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Watteau and Chardin. Toward the end of the century, a more sober style appeared, aimed at illustrating scenery, work, and moral values exemplified by Greuze; pre-romantic work by Hubert Robert and the history painting of Claude Joseph Vernet. The period of the French Revolution engendered the first works of social realism by neoclassicist painter Jacques-Louis David.

The latter half of the 18th century continued to see French preeminence in Europe, particularly through the arts and sciences, and the French language was the lingua franca of the European courts. The French academic system continued to produce artists, but some, like Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin, explored new and increasingly impressionist styles of painting with thick brushwork. Although the hierarchy of genres continued to be respected officially, genre painting, landscape, portrait and still life were extremely fashionable.

The writer Denis Diderot wrote a number of times on the annual Salons of the Académie of painting and sculpture and his comments and criticisms are a vital document on the arts of this period.

One of Diderot's favorite painters was Jean-Baptiste Greuze. Although often considered kitsch by today's standards, his paintings of domestic scenes reveal the importance of Sentimentalism in the European arts of the period (as also seen in the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Samuel Richardson.)

One also finds in this period a kind of Pre-romanticism. Hubert Robert's images of ruins, inspired by Italian cappricio paintings, are typical in this respect. So too the change from the rational and geometrical French garden (of André Le Nôtre) to the English garden, which emphasized (artificially) wild and irrational nature. One also finds in some of these gardens curious ruins of temples called "follies".


Régence (1715 - 1723)


In the arts, the style of the Régence is marked by early Rococo, characterised by the paintings of Antoine Watteau (1684–1721).

Rococo developed first in the decorative arts and interior design. Louis XIV's succession brought a change in the court artists and general artistic fashion. By the end of the old king's reign, rich Baroque designs were giving way to lighter elements with more curves and natural patterns. These elements are obvious in the architectural designs of Nicolas Pineau. During the Régence, court life moved away from Versailles and this artistic change became well established, first in the royal palace and then throughout French high society. The delicacy and playfulness of Rococo designs is often seen as perfectly in tune with the excesses of Louis XV's regime.

The 1730s represented the height of Rococo development in France. The style had spread beyond architecture and furniture to painting and sculpture, exemplified by the works of Antoine Watteau and François Boucher. Rococo still maintained the Baroque taste for complex forms and intricate patterns, but by this point, it had begun to integrate a variety of diverse characteristics, including a taste for Oriental designs and asymmetric compositions.

Louis XV (1723–1774)

Louis XV Style

The Louis XV style or Louis Quinze was a French Rococo style in the decorative arts, and, to a lesser degree, architecture. Datable to the personal reign of Louis XV (1723–1774), the style was characterised by supreme craftsmanship and the integration of the arts of cabinetmaking, painting, and sculpture. Furniture of the period—which typically came in two sets, a summer and a winter—was highly ornamental, yet elegant, and designed to mesh with the rest of the home decor. Orientalia—themes from the Far East—and the fabulous were the principle thematic expressions, and exotic woods and marbles were employed to further the effect.

Among the ébénistes who served under Louis XV were Jean-François Oeben, Roger Vandercruse Lacroix, Gilles Joubert, Antoine Gaudreau, and Martin Carlin. The most outstanding painters of the period were Juste-Aurèle Meissonier, François Boucher, Jean-Baptiste Huet, Jean-Baptiste Le Prince, Pierre Migeon, and the van Loo family: Jean-Baptiste van Loo, Louis Michel van Loo, Charles Amédée Philippe van Loo, and Charles André van Loo. No mention of the artists of the period would be complete without mention of one of their chief patrons, the king's mistress: Madame de Pompadour.

Louis XVI (1774 - 1791)

Louis XVI

The Louis XVI style of furniture (once again already present in the previous reign) tended toward circles and ovals in chair backs; chair legs were grooved; Greek inspired iconography was used as decoration.

French Revolution (1789 - 1799)

French Revolution

The French Revolution saw the first works of social realism in such works as the The Death of Marat and the The Death of Bara both by Jacques-Louis David .

See also

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