The Rococo movement is marked by levity and and an excitement for life. Branching out after a more stern artistic period (Baroque), Rococo art and architecture changed the landscape of French art forever. As such, Rococo and its legacy have made a lasting impact on a number of art forms today. Read on to discover how. 

What is Rococo?

Defining Rococo

Having arrived to the art scene closely after Baroque, Rococo can sometimes be difficult to spot. But a few distinct characteristics set it apart from all the rest.  


What is Rococo?

Rococo is a flamboyant yet light-hearted form of art often characterized by whites and pastel colors, gilding, and curvaceous lines. The Rococo style typically depicts scenes of youth, love, and nature, and elicits motion and drama. 

Key Rococo figures: 

  • Jean-Antoine Watteau (the father of Rococo)
  • François Boucher
  • Jean-François de Troy
  • Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun

Origins of Rococo

Roots of Rococo

After the death of King Louis the XIV, the French elite shifted away from more ornamental style and more toward intimate decor, literally leaving Versailles to Parisian manors. They became the urban upper class. Baroque, which had been among the most (if not the most) favored style at the time, was formal, grandiose, and stern, and the French upper class began to opt for softer, elegant, and asymmetrical adornments.


Rococo comes from the French word “rocaille” meaning rubble or rock. This refers to pebble or shell-work in fountains or grottos, and describes the serpentine pattern often seen in the Rococo era. 

What is Rococo Art Triumph of Venus

Triumph of Venus, 1740 François Boucher

Rococo started as an architectural style but then evolved into a form of playful yet exquisitely detailed painting. It evokes levity and frivolity with its cotton candy-like colors and youthful depictions of nature, and this became especially popular in around 1730, when it quickly began to spread to Austria, Germany, and other European countries. Rococo began to fade out of vogue in around 1770, when more “sobering” styles such as Neoclassicism took over. 

Popular Examples of Rococo

Popular Rococo

Alongside Impressionism, Rococo is well-regarded as a most influential French art movement. It built off of the darker, more emotive dark as it helped the art world move into a brighter period, and certain Rococo works emphasize this idea. 

Jean-Antoine Watteau is credited with the birth of Rococo. He also championed fête-galante, a particular focus on garden parties and other such outdoor events as primary subject matter. His paintings incorporated whimsy like no other, and as such, he has produced some of the most familiar Rococo works. One such piece is “The Embarkation for Cythera” (1717). 

What is Rococo Art The Embarkation for Cythera

The Embarkation for Cythera, 1717

Characterized by asymmetry, fluffy blues and pastels, and its idyllic, nature-inspired subject matter, “The Embarkation of Cythera” is one of the most famous Rococo works of all time. 

Another famous work is “The Swing” (1767-1768) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard. 

What is Rococo Art The Swing

The Swing, 1767-1768

This piece is marked by its depiction of a lush forest, its clear evocation of motion (and therefore, playfulness) via the woman’s billowing pink dress, and of course its soft color palette. Said of this painting: “The decadent composition all but shouts, ‘let them eat cake’,” as it leans into its suggestive nature and even allowed its creator to transition from well-liked historical painter to favorite painter of the elite upper class. 

Rococo Today

Present Day Rococo 

Rococo art is a treasured fraction of the French art movement, so it stands to reason the art and architecture of the 18th century themselves are being kept alive in their original form when possible. In addition, there is the beloved period genre in film that adds new life to the style. 

Probably one of the more famous recent depictions of Rococo style is the Sofia Coppola film Marie Antoinette.  Not only is Rococo a large influence on the historical accuracy of the film’s setting, but the film itself plays on the youthfulness and edginess Rococo exhibited when it first came on the scene in the 1700s; Marie Antoinette adds its own jovial spin to the history genre much like how Rococo played on Baroque (its predecessor). 

What is Rococo Art Marie Antoinette Rococo Environment

What is Rococo Art  •  Marie Antoinette

The colors of the film as a whole are almost confection-like, making the film visually delectable and unique. It defies what we see in everyday life through its extravagance, and even stands out among its historical genre film counterparts. In a sort of visual irony, the darkness of some of the film’s events are contradicted by the playfulness of Marie Antoinette’s carefree life. 

Marie Antoinette as a historical figure, the key motivators of the Rococo style, and the film Marie Antoinette are fun, carefree, less religion-focused puzzle pieces of art and film history, and truly, they all but scream “Let them eat cake.”

Up Next

What is Art Nouveau?

French art movements don’t end with Rococo. Check out Art Nouveau to dive into this fleeting yet influential movement which pushed artistic boundaries and modernized design. 

Up Next: What is Art Nouveau →
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