Style Guide: Rococo
Natural motifs are a feature of both British and French Rococo. However, in British Rococo designs the natural motifs are often more realistic in their details than those on French Rococo designs.
Elaborate carved forms
Rococo was a style developed by craftspeople and designers rather than architects. This helps to explain the importance of hand-worked decoration in Rococo design.
Rococo design is often not symmetrical - one half of the design does not match the other half
S and C scrolls
Curved forms are common in Rococo. They often resemble the letters S and C.
Rocaille takes various forms. Sometimes it looks like a piece of frilly carving. At other times it looks like some form of water or eroded rock.
The acanthus leaf is one of the basic motifs of Rococo design. It is not very closely related to a real acanthus leaf (Acanthus mollis), but is rather a stylised version of it.
Longton Hall porcelain factory
Soft-paste porcelain, painted in enamels
Museum no. C.265&A-1940
Chimneypiece and Overmantel
Pinewood, marble and mirror glass
Museum no. 738:1 to 3-1897
Thomas Johnson (after, designer)
Pine, with water gilding and oil gilding
Museum no. W.48-1952
Dressing Table Mirror
Chelsea Porcelain factory
Soft-paste porcelain painted with enamels, moulded, engraved and with gilt-metal mounts and brass plaque
Museum no. C.214 to E-1935
Watch and Chatelaine
Nathaniel Adams (maker)
William Hunt (probably, maker)
Gold and gilt metal, embossed, cast and chased; bloodstone egg, with enamelled mounts; rock crystal seal
Museum no. M.14:1 to 4-1992
Thomas Johnson (probably, designer and maker)
Carved and painted pine, with iron branches and gilt-brass nozzles
Museum no. W.9-1950
Bow Porcelain Factory
Phosphatic soft-paste porcelain, moulded, and painted in enamels, with traces of gilding
Museum no. C.231:1, 2-1993
Hubert Gravelot (1699 - 1773)
Gravelot was probably the single most important influence on the development of British Rococo. He was a French illustrator, engraver, painter and draughtsman who first came to London as an engraver, bringing with him knowledge of French Rococo art and design. He was soon in demand as an illustrator and draughtsman and taught at the St Martin's Lane Academy, a drawing school for craftspeople. It was his teaching, together with his book illustrations, that made him so influential.
Thomas Johnson (1714 - about 1778)
Johnson was an influential figure in British Rococo for three reasons. He was a drawing master, teaching London designers and craftspeople. He published a wide range of designs for wood carving that were used by many in the field. He was also a carver himself, although no bills relating to his own carvings have been traced.
Paul de Lamerie (1688 - 1751)
De Lamerie was born in the Netherlands to French Huguenot parents, who had settled in London by 1691. He was one of the first British silversmiths to work in the Rococo style in the 1730s, with commissions from many aristocratic patrons. The most highly regarded silversmith of his day, his fame survived him, giving him a lasting influence on British silver.
Hubert-François Bourguignon Gravelot
Ink on paper
Museum no. E.2456-1932
Thomas Johnson (designer)
Butler Clowes (probably, etcher)
Etching, ink on paper
Museum no. E.3780-1903
Buildings and Interiors
The Grand Staircase at Powderham Castle, the family home of the Earl of Devon
This staircase dating from about 1755 is one of the finest surviving examples of Rococo plasterwork. The decoration is full of swirling S and C scrolls, birds, animals, flowers, fruit and foliage, in the original white on blue-green colour scheme. The staircase was built as part of a scheme to update the Castle's original medieval Great Hall.
The Norfolk House Music Room
The Music Room dates from 1756 and was part of a series of entertaining rooms in the London home of the Duke of Norfolk in St James's Square. The trophies on the ceiling are Rococo and there is a frieze of scrolling acanthus leaves around the top of the wall. The panelling features S and C scrolls and natural motifs. Other elements, like the overall proportions and the compartmentalised ceiling are Palladian in style. The slightly 'squashed' appearance of some of the Rococo decoration suggests that this may have been a later addition to the plans for the room's decoration. The room is on display in the British Galleries.
Read more about the Norfolk House Music Room
French Style 1830 - 1880
Rococo was one of the key sources for French Style. However, French Style also included other cross-channel influences from the period 1680 to 1800. It relied on gilding and strong colours to create a sense of luxury.