Art of the 18th Century

Antoine Watteau, Two Cousins, 1716. Louvre.

The 18th century was a time of tremendous change, and the remarkable art of this period reflects this.

Meissen, Monkey Orchestra Figurines, designed 1753. Source.

Early in the century, the delightfully excessive Rococo style reflected the decadence of the aristocracy. Paintings by Watteau, Boucher and Fragonard captured their dalliances, while the great porcelain factories of Meissen and Sèvres produced statuettes of a quality never surpassed.

François de Cuvilliés, Hall of Mirrors at Amalienburg, 1734-39. Source.

G.B. Tiepolo, Ceiling of the Residenz in Wurzburg, Germany, 1752/1753. Source.

Rococo spread across Europe, as artists such as Belgian-born François de Cuvilliés and Italian Giambattista Tiepolo created sumptuous masterworks for aristocratic clients eager to have the latest fashion.

Thomas Gainsborough, Mrs. Richard Brinsley Sheridan, 1787. Source.

Chinese Chippendale in the State Dressing Room, Nostell Priory, Source.

In England, the Grand Manner portraits of Sir Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough, and the furniture of master designer Thomas Chippendale, typify the elegance of Georgian style.

Robert Adam, Interior of Home House, 1777. Source.

Around mid-century, the discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum sparked Neoclassicism, and Rococo’s sinuous curves were replaced by classical order and harmony. The architecture of Robert Adam, who studied in Rome, exemplifies the new style.

Jean Siméon Chardin, Basket of Peaches, with Walnuts, Knife and Glass of Wine, 1768. Source. 

William Blake, America: A Prophecy Plate 12, 1793. Source.

Enlightenment thinkers promoted rationalism, science and individual worth, regardless of stature, and the rustic still lives of Chardin reflect an appreciation of the simple life.

Revolutionary fervour in America and France inspired Romantic painter/poet William Blake’s America: A Prophecy, an impassioned protest against oppression by monarchies and religions.

Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, 1772. Source.
Jacques-Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii, 1784. Louvre. Source.

America’s third President, Thomas Jefferson, chose Neoclassicism for his Virginia home, Monticello,  believing the architecture of ancient Greece to be a fitting symbol for a nascent democracy.

Towards the end of the 18th century, French painter Jacques-Louis David drew on Roman legend to express the concept of putting public duty before personal well-being. From amour to armour, the art of the 18th century captures it all!

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