Rococo furniture takes its name from the French, “rocaille”, in reference to the rock, or broken shell motifs that often formed part of the designs. Period Rococo furniture was made during the 18th century. It was particularly fashionable between 1730 and 1770.
Rococo design is also referred to as “late Baroque” as Baroque furniture and Rococo furniture share several characteristics and there is some overlap in terms of time scale. Rococo differs from Baroque, however, in that it was developed in Paris, France, as a reaction against the strict regulations inherent in Baroque design. Its looser, freer, more jocular approach to design proved a hit with home owners across Europe, who were quick to adopt the new style.
Rococo rooms were considered and composed in the same way a work of art might be: ornate, elegant furniture complemented heavily gilded mirrors, ornamental sculptures, tapestries and wall paintings. The overall effect tended towards the theatrical. Creamy pastel colours, asymmetrical designs and a great deal of gold were used in order to establish an impression of decadence and luxury.
Towards the end of the 18th century, Rococo designs began to fall out of fashion. Rococo was supplanted by the Neoclassic style.
Natural motifs feature in both French and British furniture designs of the period. French designers, however, favoured a more impressionistic style than their British counterparts, whose natural motifs are often more realistic in their details.
Since Rococo was born of craftspeople, as opposed to architects, hand worked decoration and elaborate carved forms are prevalent.
Generally, Rococo design is not symmetrical. One half of any design is likely to contrast the other half indirectly, rather than mirroring it.
Curved forms are commonly found in Rococo designs – shapes resembling the letters “S” and “C” were especially popular.
Frills, acanthus leaves and gilding are hallmarks.
Notable designers and manufacturers
- Hubert Gravelot (1699-1773): Gravelot was a French illustrator, engraver and designer whose illustrated tomes became increasingly influential during the period.
- Thomas Johnson (1714-1778): Johnson was a British designer during the Rococo period. His wide ranging designs for wood carving were used by many in the field. Although he was also a carver, no bills relating to his own carving have been traced.
- Paul de Lamerie (1688-1751): Lamerie was one of the major silversmiths working in Rococo style in London. In completing many expensive commissions for wealthy patrons, Lamerie’s name has become a byword for elaborate and now extremely valuable Rococo metal work.
- Antione Gaudreau (1680-1746): Gaudreau was King Louis XV’s principal furniture supplier. No stamped piece by Gaudreau exists and very few identifications have been made.
- Charles Cressent (1685-1768): Cressent was a French furniture maker and sculptor. He is considered among the finest decorative artists of the 18th century. He was a pupil of the eminent furniture designer Andre Charles Boulle.
- Jean-Pierre Latz (1691-1754): Latz was an 18th century, Parisian cabinet maker. His furniture exhibits a fully developed Rococo style.
Get the look
Rococo plasterwork features swirling “S” and “C” scrolls, birds, animals, flowers, fruit and foliage.
Muted, pastel colours were prevalent. However, these subdued hues were off set with lashings of gold and lacquer.
Rococo designs relish in asymmetry. This practise of leaving elements unbalanced for effect is known as “contraste”.
Rococo furniture is delicate, graceful, versatile and comparably light. Specialised forms include the fauteuil chair, the voyeuse chair and the berger en gondola. Furniture was not anchored to a wall, but free standing in order to emphasis its versatility. Mahogany and marble were particularly popular materials throughout the period.
Long, unblemished mirrors with elaborate, gilt frames emerged during the 18th century, as glass making techniques improved considerably.
The vast majority of furniture items dating from the period, and, in particular, mirror frames, are decorated with rock or shell designs. “Frills” and dripping water were also very popular Rococo motifs.
A German Rococo carved gilt-wood mirror believed to have been designed by Johann Michael II Hoppenhaupt sold for $31,250 at Sotheby’s in October 2012.
An Italian Rococo sofa sold for $31,250 at Sotheby’s in October 2012.
A set of six Italian gilt-wood chairs circa 1745 sold for $34,375 at Sotheby’s in May 2012.
A suite of eight Rococo chairs sold for €961,000 at Christie’s in February 2009.
A pair of George III white painted parcel-gilt arm chairs sold for $388,431 at Christie’s in December 2012.
A George III Rococo chimney piece sold for $80,819 at Christie’s in October 2009.
General price guide
Original period Rococo furniture commands substantial sums at auction, However, many replica items were made during the 19th and 20th centuries as the style remained considerably popular.
A French mirrored wardrobe in the Rococo style sold for $350 at Ransberger Auctions in August 2005.
A Victorian Rococo revival sofa sold for $550 at Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers in April 2007.
A large, Portuguese, Rococo style carved oak mirror sold for $2,000 at Skinner Auctioneers and Appraisers in June 2004.
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