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The Rococo Period

The Rococo was an art movement that emerged in France and spread throughout the world in the late 17 th and early 18th century. The word came from a French term, rocaille, meaning “rock and shell garden ornamentation�. The exact time it began was in 1699 after the king of France, Louis XIV, commanded to have more youthful art to be created under his reign. It is also denoted as Late Baroque because it started developing as Baroque artists started moving away from symmetry to more fluid designs. The Rococo art movement focussed the most important disputed topic of the time, colour contrasted with drawing, and joined the two to create beautiful pieces. Artists of in the Rococo Period gave more attention to details, ornamentations and use of bright colours.

Portrait of Louis XIV

Thomas Gainsborough, Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, c. 1750, Oil on canvas, 69.8 x 119.4 cm, The National Gallery, London Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, is painted by Thomas Gainsborough, an English portrait and landscape painter. He was born in 1727 and died in 1788. He was a painter from the Rococo, Baroque, Romanticism, etc, Period. The painting was made in 1750 in canvas with oil ad the medium. It has a dimension of 69.8 x 119.4 cm. In the 18th century, the role of Patronage for English Art, landscape was an unimportant genre, instead ‘History Painting’, and ‘The Grand Manner’ was culturally relevant. The patrons mostly wanted Portraiture. The artist, Thomas Gainsborough became one of England’s foremost landscape painters. However, there was no market for pure landscape painting. So, he had to depend on portraiture to make his living. The painting is of a double portrait, off-centre, of a well dressed couple in a landscape. They seems to be in a field/countryside. The male figure is standing upwards which leaning towards the female figure who is sitting down in a bench, she seems to be also painting something. They are wearing expensive clothing, along with hats, though they are not extravagant – she is wearing baby-blue, with light-yellow inner-liner, coloured garment and pinked heeled shoes. Her garment is quite big, but not to the point where the viewers cannot see the a Rococo-style wooden bench. The man is also holding a gun by his right arm. A solid Oaktree is seen behind the female figure. A dog is on the right of male looking so obediently towards him. There is a neat parallel rows of corn piled ono the right. Their wealth is flaunted in this painting and just like the painting of The Arnolfini portrait, this painting also contains symbols of personal success.

The oak tree symbolises her fertility and a proposal of her adding new family members in their family tree and nurturing them.

The male figure standing might symbolise his authority over the female figure and some sort of ownership of her. The gun shows wealth since the lower-classed citizens were not able to purchase, thus showing his wealth.

The dog could be a symbol of ownership, of the land and the female figure, and loyalty, like from the Arnolfini portrait painting.

They both have a pale complexion which implies that they are an upper-classed citizens. This shows wealth as back then having a tan meant that you worked in the fields. They both also have the figure have quite a cocky looks to them. This might be because they known of their wealth a privilege. The painting on her lap is incomplete. Which suggest that the space might be reserved for a child.

The neat parallel rows of corn produced by Jethro Tull's revolutionary and controversial seed drill show that this is a thoroughly modern and efficient farm.

The wooden beach has a theoretical foundation for Rococo beauty – the rolling lines and S-curves prominent in Rococo were the foundation for grace and beauty in art or nature. This bench shows their wealth as it signifies that they are about to afford such luxury.

The couple in the painting is of Mr and Mrs Robert Andrews. The 22 years old Robert Andrews married 16 year old Frances Carter in November 1748. The artist, Thomas Gainsborough painted this portrait of the newlyweds shortly after their marriage, a permanent record of key events . Portraits were status objects and this painting is not just a wedding portrait, but their financial statue, their wealth, as well. During this period, women couldn’t inherit the families inheritance and when they get married, the inheritance would be transferred to the husband. So, this portrait rather than them showing their wealth, it’s him showing his ownership to his and her wealth. Both of their families were landowners and were very wealthy in the Essex, England. The background is believed to be of Bulmer Tye, North Essex, whish is just a few miles across the county border from Gainsborough’s native county of Suffolk. They actually owned the land and by looking at the depth of the landscape, it confirms their wealth. The location distinguished because of the setting seen in the background. There is a small tower on the left side of the painting in the background. The building is of St. Peters Church in Sudbury. There is another building present in the middle of the painting. This building is a church named All Saints, Little Cornard.

The Traditional Art Criticism, on Landscape Painting, & The Modern Interpretation, Of What The painting could be Could Mean To Viewers At Present Traditional Art Criticism by Kenneth Clark

Modern Critique by John Berger

‘What [Gainsborough] saw inspired him to put into his pictures backgrounds as sensitively observed as the corn-field in which are seated Mr and Mrs Andrews. This enchanted work is painted with such love and mastery’

‘Why did [they] commission a portrait of themselves with a recognisable landscape of their own land as back-ground? They are land-owners and their proprietary attitude towards what surround them is visible in their stance and their expressions’

Berger criticised Clark for not able to notice that Gainsborough’s painting of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews surveyed land filled with starving tenants – ‘Mr and Mrs Andrews is a painting made for an audience and a view of nature that 'was ultimately determined by new attitudes to property and exchange’ – Berger

‘A painting made for an audience and a view of nature that 'was ultimately determined by new attitudes to property and exchange’

Landscape Painting: ‘Marks the stages in our conception of nature… it is part of a cycle in which the human spirit attempted once more to create a harmony with its environment'

‘Landscapes may be seen as assertions of power: of man over nature, or of one social group or political ideology over another. Examples include landscape parks, modern capitalist farming landscapes’

Just like the pervious painting of Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, this painting, The Swing, is also done in in the Rococo-style. This painting was painted Jean-Honoré Fragonard. The painting was a development from, but largely a reaction against the Baroque. Both of the painting has the same distinctive characteristics – the lightness, grace playfulness. Especially, Mrs. Andrews dress and the females pink coloured dress, who is on the swing. Both of the dresses are concerned with surface decoration and lightness and have the same form of pastel colours with elegant laces. Even with both of the figures are under a shade, a little ray of sunlight causes the dress to look as though it is shining. Thus, making it look as though it is made out of silk. Both of then are also wearing a baby-pink coloured silky shoes. The bench that Mrs. Andrews sitting on is appears to be elongated and has a beautiful designed details. The bench is too beautiful to be in the wheat field. Gainsborough, simply designed the bench as such to highlight the romantic atmosphere, of the Rococo Period – this can seem in the swing as well.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Les hazards heureux de l'escarpolette (The Swing), c. 1767 – 1768, Oil on canvas, 81 cm × 64.2 cm, Wallace Collection, London, United Kingdom


Madame Blavatsky was a German philosopher who was born in 1831 and died in 1891 because of Influenza. She, William Quan Judge, and Henry Steel Olcott founded Theosophical Society, in New York City in 1875. It was an organisation that believed in Theosophy. Theosophy is an occult movement, a religion, which can be traced back to ancient Gnosticism and Neoplatonism. They believed that there is an ancient and secretive brotherhood of spiritual devotee who are known as the Masters. Theses Masters were believed to have the ultimate wisdom and supernatural powers. Theosophist believed that the Masters were trying to bring back knowledge of an ancient religion. Blavatsky was a controversial figure in her days as Theosophist believed that they were trying to initiate this belief though the teaching of Blavatsky. She first encountered with this belief when she had travelled to Tibet and learnt the existence of the universe. Thus, she wrote a, 'Secret Doctrine’, in 1888 which was the key to the truth of life itself. She was not just controversial because of the organisation, but also because of all she had done before it, such as, fighting with Garibaldi's army in the Battle of Mentana, voodoo magicians in New Orleans and bandits in Mexico, etc.

Modernism is a philosophical movement that occurred in western Europe in 1850. In terms of art is the reaction to the changes in the modern period. It was the rejection of old styles. The modern era roughly began in the 1860’s, the start of the industrial age, to the late 1960’s. The artist, Piet Mondrian, was a Theosophist. He was influenced by Madame Blavatsky and her beliefs. So, not only was he experimenting rejection classical art techniques, but also meddling with spiritualism. Later Charles Darwin, a Naturalist, published his book of his theory of evolution. This created another chaos in to world as some people started doubting that God existed. The book revolutionised peoples thought in how the universe was created and started to look for answers elsewhere to questions that the modern age posed. It was then a Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky wrote, 'Suddenly thick walls crumbled. Everything was soft, uncertain, vacillating. it would not have astonished me to see a stone melt in the air and evaporate.’ It was in this perspective that spiritualism became fashionable in the early 20 th century.

Kandinsky together with his friend, a German painter, Franz Marc founded a society named Der Blaue Reiter in 1911. The main point of the organisation was ‘to destroy barriers between the different forms of art’. They assumed that the spiritual regeneration of the human soul was likely through viewing forms of colour (paintings) and that art could express the inner state. They combined belief of Blavatsky and German folk art to create new ways of viewing the world of forms around us. In 1911, the artist published a book named ‘On the Spiritual in Art’ to explain his theories. Kandinsky was influenced by a French Artist, Claude Monet paintings of haystacks at an exhibition in Moscow, Kandinsky. He was moved by the colour and composition of the work, which he realised was more important than the paintings depiction of a physical landscape. He was also influenced by music. He appreciated the way the listeners could be moved with no prior knowledge of music. He wanted viewer to see music in the form of art. He believed that painting should be as abstract as music, with groups of colour in a picture relating to one another in a manner similar to sequences of music. He specifically appreciated the compositions of Wagner and the composer Schoenberg, he would create inharmonious compositions. Synaesthesia is the termed used when artist portrays sounds as colours.

Portrait of Kandinsky

Kandinsky, Wassily, Composition VI Munich / Monaco, Germany 1913, Oil on canvas, 195x300 cm, Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg, Russia

This painting was created in 1913 in Munich / Monaco, Germany. Oil painting is used as medium and is painted on canvas. It had a dimension of 195 x 300 cm. The painting has random, spontaneous composition of colours and forms manipulating the characteristic of line, colour and form. It is an abstract expression of Kandinsky’s inner state which expresses clashing of forms to create chaos. Kandinsky didn’t want an harmonious abstract art as the social and spiritual conditions back then commanded ‘opposition’ and ‘contradiction’. This abstraction, by using non-geometric forms, can be seen in the Composition VI painting. This painting is Synaesthesia and Kandinsky used dark red to show a sopranos voice, green as violins and yellow as the Earth and the Bugle. Its composition is very complex, and it does not have any central point of focus. Kandinsky defined the painting as having two centres. The first one is on the left, which has comprised delicate, indefinite lines over a rosy and blurred centre, and the second one is to the right, and is a ‘crude, red-blue, rather discordant area’ with strong and precise lines. The major point can be seen in between the two centres which can be seen, but only gradually. In the major point, pink and white colours painted in such a way that they look as though they are positioned outside the canvas plane or maybe another plane. The Composition VI can be interpreted as the Deluge – a Biblical flood. It was an incident that resounded an era of spiritual rebirth. Some of the objects are formed, such as, boats and slanting rain, as references to the flood. Kandinsky represents the painting with such aggressive violence and disorder to respond to the perceived change of the modern world which included wars, urbanisation and even faith in science.

UNIT 4: Art History [Part IV]  

Art and Design (Foundation Diploma Level 3), Art History Unit 4, New College

UNIT 4: Art History [Part IV]  

Art and Design (Foundation Diploma Level 3), Art History Unit 4, New College