Sunday, August 18, 2013

19th Century Dreams of the 18th Century: The Rococo Revival in Great Britain

boucherinterruptedsleepFrancois Boucher The Interrupted Sleep 1750 oil on canvas 31”x27.75” The Metropolitan Museum of Art

During the 18th century the British did not highly favor the Rococo style of France, but beginning in the 1820’s there was a shift away from a more neo-classical Empire style in favor of a greater interest in Rococo design and motifs.  This movement became known as the Rococo Revival  and lasted into the 1860’s and I would argue even later.  Its appearance signaled the historicist nature of the 19th century as it looked to the past for artistic and stylistic inspiration.  Besides the Rococo Revival there was a Gothic Revival, a Renaissance Revival and an Egyptian Revival.  These revival styles were not mere imitators of past forms but a unique reformulation of older styles and motifs.  They were also not confined to Great Britain, but appeared and flourished in the United States, France and Germany.

P1020320A George IV sterling cream jug made in London in 1824 by George Knight

An 1824 London cream jug by George Knight demonstrates the beginning of the interest in the Rococo.  (All objects in this post are from my own collection unless otherwise noted.)  While the George IV jug still vaguely maintains the neoclassical helmet shape, it has become fatter, more plump in its outline and volume suggesting the richness and sumptuousness of the Rococo. Also, it is elegantly raised on little ball feet which give it an abundance and playfulness that is in contrast to earlier more sober designs of the Empire style.

P1020323George VI 1824 cream jug decoration detail

Around the body of the creamer is an exuberant engraving of flowers, leaves and fruit. Yet along side this Rococo Revival display is a classical palmette or anthemion which indicates how this creamer is a transitional piece. It still has neoclassical elements of design alongside the emerging interest in 18th century French style which would gain greater popularity into the 1830’s and 1840’s

watteautileMinton tile from the “Watteau” series first introduced in the 1840’s and reissued in the 1880’s.  This tile is from the 1880’s.

In the 1840’s Minton made a tile series named “Watteau” based on the fête champêtre paintings of the French Rococo painter Jean-Antoine Watteau.  The fête champêtre was a popular form of entertainment with the French court in the 18th century that took the form of a garden party.  This garden party is also characterized by amorous musings and goings on although with  Watteau there is always a poignancy and almost sadness to the proceedings that are certainly not evident in the joyous nature of the above tile in which a young gentleman serenades his potential love with a flute in a bucolic landscape.  Yet, while different in tone than Watteau the tile does indeed have all the elements of a fête champêtre- lovers in period dress, music and a pastoral setting, but only 2 figures whereas the traditional fête champêtre usually incorporates many figures.

watteauscaleoflove Jean-Antoine Watteau  The Scale of Love 1715-1718 oil on canvas 20”x23.5” The National Gallery London

watteautile2Minton tile from the “Watteau” series first introduced in the 1840’s and reissued in the 1880’s. This tile is from the 1880’s.

The above tile is another example from the Minton "Watteau” series and again displays the essential components of its type- male and female figures in period costume, the figures are in a bucolic space with amorous intentions and music.  Also, note here the tile border with its acanthus swirls which are very reminiscent of Rococo motifs.  The Minton tiles also demonstrate that interest in the Rococo Revival lasted well past the 1860’s.  Why else would Minton reintroduce this pattern in the 1880’s if they didn’t think it would be saleable item. 

And it should be noted that there were various transferware patterns named “Watteau” during the 1840’s and 1850’s particularly in flow blue.  “Watteau” must have been a good buzz word in which to name your pattern because it was to a degree in the collective consciousness and signaled the Rococo style.  Here is an example of one “Watteau” pattern in green which is unusual:

watteautransferplate Scalloped wash bowl in the “Watteau” pattern by Francis Morley and Company 1845-1858 Courtesy Transferware Collector’s Club



P1020333 Silverplate Mustard Pot by Elkington and Co.,Ltd. dated 1853

An example of the Rococo Revival from the 1850’s is this sweet, humble mustard pot in silverplate with a blue glass liner by Elkington and Co., Ltd.  Birmingham dated 1853.  Elkington pieces of silverplate are wonderful because they have letter marks which allow you to date them to the year of their production.  The mustard pot has all the hallmarks of Rococo Revival design in silver.  It has a gadrooned, lobed body that is embellished with repousse flowers and acanthus leaves which are then engraved.  It also has a lovely c-scroll cartouche with a period R initial of its perhaps original owner.  The lid of the mustard pot is also decorated with flowers and acanthus leaves and there is an upright shell with which to open the lid.

P1020595 Silverplate Sugar Bowl by Elkington and Co., Ltd. dated 1865

P1020597 Silverplate Creamer by Elkington and Co., Ltd dated 1865

A large silverplate creamer and sugar also by Elkington provides an example of the Rococo Revival from the 1860’s.  Like the mustard pot the sugar and creamer have a lobed body, the two displaying a particularly elegant bulbous pear shape with lovely shaped and scrolled handles.  Both pieces are embellished with repousse flowers and acanthus leaves that have then been further engraved to highlight and express the details of the floral elements and increase the richness and exuberance of the overall piece.

P1020596 Sugar Bowl Detail

My final example of the Rococo Revival is a very late example-  a pair of sterling bud vases made in London by William Comyns in 1902 at the very end of the Victorian Era.

P1010107 1902 Sterling Bud Vases made in London by William Comyns

The pair of vases have all the characteristics of the Rococo Revival.  The are heavily embellished with C-scrolls and some flowers.  Nestled among this profusion are cherubs.  Pieces such as these vases indicate that the Rococo Revival style lasted well into the late 19th century.  Perhaps it was not as popular or ubiquitous, but examples of this revival style still persisted and were desired.

P1010084Comyns Vase Detail of Flying Cherub

The Comyns vases also point the way to the Art Nouveau style which to some degree could be understood and discussed as yet another Rococo Revival in the early 20th century.  For myself I find Rococo Revival pieces quite appealing just as much as I like its 18th century origins.  The sumptuous and playful nature of the style both in 1720 and 1840 has always garnered my interest just as I am fascinated how the 19th century recast this style for its own time and purposes.