Review of Boucher, Watteau and the Origin of Rococo Exhibition

François Boucher, Recumbent woman seen from behind,
Collection École des Beaux-Arts, Paris


18th century drawings from the collection of the Ecole Nationale Superieure Des Beaux-Arts, Paris.

5 MARCH – 1 MAY 2005

The Art Gallery of NSW put together a collection of drawings and prints which demonstrates the art of the Rococo period, and in doing so has demonstrated Boucher’s instrumentation in further developing this style.

François Boucher, design for a frontpiece (detail)

Boucher was a great draughtsman and together with other engravers made this movement in visual arts spread to architecture, furniture, cabinet making, crockery and even ship building. This exhibition chose its drawings carefully to include blueprints of grand buildings, a craftsman’s drawing of a candelabra and the detail of the design for the poop of the ship “le Foudroyen” out of the studio of Francois Charles Caffieri.
It also demonstrated the influence of the far east by including drawings from Alexis Peyrotte “Jardinière chinoise, as seen below.

Alexis Peyrotte Jardinère, chinoise 1769

Boucher promoted the Rococo style and he did so based on the drawings of Watteau. Watteau refused to be part of the dramatic and emotional baroque period instead choosing to draw and paint in a more dainty, intimate and graceful style. The exhibition has eight wonderful drawings from Watteau and the engravings that Boucher made after them. This style with its sinuous lines and asymmetrical arrangements was embraced by the aristocracy and the court of Louis the XV and his mistress Madame Pompadour.

Jean-Antoine Watteau, Women Practicing a dance step.

The Life drawings from the period are executed with superb skill, attention to detail and careful hatching and shading. The slowly curving line of the human form moves your eye calmly down the figure to its feet where the background with its subtle features of an outdoor or garden landscape takes your interest. This is all designed to give its viewer a pleasant and aesthetically pleasing response. There is nothing confrontational, thought provoking or even emotional about these drawings, nor is there meant to be.

François Boucher, Diane asleep, 1770

François Boucher, Seated Man with his arms folded, 1770

During the Rococo period it was all about the niceties of life, dancing, entertaining and social gatherings of the aristocracy, unfortunately all this extravagance came on the back of the poor starving masses, though you will not see any images of this until the Rococo period ended and Neoclassicism began, which was also beginning of the age of revolution c.1777.

Gabriel Huquier, Décor with trellised dooraway and fontain(detail)

I found the exhibition to be very insightful into the origin of Rococo and the profound influence Boucher had in creating it. It was, I feel, a lesson in the history of an art movement which has played a role in all other art movements which followed it. The only criticism that I would make of it as an exhibition is that I would have like to have seen other pieces of art from the period, including paintings, sculpture and even some pieces of furniture to better complete my view of the Rococo period.


Art Gallery of NSW – Boucher, Watteau and the Origin of the Rococo, Pamphlet.

Art Gallery of NSW – Exhibitions Autumn 05 – Pamphlet., c.March, 2005

Review of Boucher, Watteau and the Origin of Rococo Exhibition

Marilyn Brown

Joined May 2007

  • Artist

Artist's Description

Boucher promoted the Rococo style and he did so based on the drawings of Watteau

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