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5.4: Rococo (1715 - 1789)

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    Rococo originates from the French word "rocaille" and is characterized by flowing lines, curves, and counter curves that change direction. This ornate style, filled with sensuality and fantasy, emerged in 1715 as a rejection of the dark and overly ornate Baroque style popularized at Versailles. Unlike Baroque, Rococo emphasizes lighter colors and natural elements. In Rococo art, attention is drawn to the details of aristocrats and their fashion rather than the powerful symbols of the church. The paintings often depict playful society scenes in pastures or forests, with occasional hidden sexual references.

    The Rococo style originated in France and quickly spread to England, thanks to the court painter for the Prince of Wales. As the French aristocracy moved from Versailles to Paris, they created salons - large central spaces for entertainment adorned with sculptures, specialized furniture, room decor, and paintings in the Rococo style. The works were characterized by pleasantry and light-heartedness, a departure from the austere Baroque standards. The predominant color palettes were pastels and gold, the primary wood type was mahogany, and oversized mirrors reflected light. Rococo paintings were playful, featuring mythical scenes and extravagant landscapes or interiors with ornate 'cotton-candy' colors that celebrated love and life outside of mythology—the period also highlighted the influence and competence of female painters, with royal women being the biggest supporters of female artists, frequently commissioning them for specific portraits.

    The Rococo period was a time of significant European change, particularly for female artists. In the late 18th century, the French Revolution swept across the continent, bringing significant political and social upheaval. One of the most notable changes was the removal of certain restrictions on women, which allowed them to pursue their passion for art and join prestigious academies and salons. During this era, many artists were drawn to the Rococo style, characterized by its use of delicate silks and lace as a common theme. However, as the Revolution progressed and the political climate became more austere, clothing styles became more straightforward, and this shift was reflected in the later paintings of these artists. Despite their challenges, female artists during the Rococo period left a lasting impact on the art world and paved the way for future generations of women to pursue their passions.

    • Élisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun (1755–1842)
    • Marie-Suzanne Giroust Roslin (1734-1772)
    • Anne Vallayer-Coster (1744-1818)
    • Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749-1803)
    • Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux (1761-1802)
    • Marie-Victoire Lemoine (1754-1820)

    Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun

    Elisabeth Louise Vigée-Le Brun (1755–1842) was considered one of the most significant 18th-century painters and achieved success throughout Europe. Her husband was a Parisian art dealer, yet she was denied access to the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture because of his occupation. With the help of Marie Antoinette, at the young age of 28, she was admitted as one of the fifteen female members. During the French Revolution, she had to leave France, and work in Italy, Germany, and Russia, painting images of the multiple royal families and their associates.

    The stunning painting titled Marie-Antoinette with the Rose (5.4.1) showcases the queen in a striking muslin dress, an unconventional choice for someone of her rank. However, artist Vigée-Le Brun later created another portrait of the queen in the same pose, but this time, she was adorned in a gorgeous silk dress. The exquisite blue-grey hue of the dress and the queen's pale complexion create a breathtaking contrast against the darker background of the garden in Versailles. In the foreground, the queen carefully selects a rose from a nearby bush, showcasing her deep love for the flower. Her royal status is reflected in her delicate lace, shiny satin material, powdered wig, feathered hat, and the elegant pose of her neck. It's worth noting noteworthy that Marie-Antoinette had a profound love for roses and even planted over two thousand in one of the gardens. The artist, Vigée-Le Brun, shared a close relationship with the queen and painted over twenty-five portraits of her before the Revolution, capturing her beauty and regal nature for all time.

    In the painting of Self-portrait in a Straw Hat (5.4.2), elegant simplicity is conveyed through her confident appearance. Her un-powdered, loose hairstyle and less ornate image give her a natural and effortless look, while the light focuses on her face and neck, creating a flattering glow. With a self-assured expression and direct gaze at the viewer, she exudes an air of captivating and inspiring confidence. Despite the elegantly adorned silk and lace clothing, the style remains uncomplicated, emphasizing the subject's innate beauty. Vigée-Le Brun's painting skills are showcased through the precise details and beauty of the portrait, as she holds her palette and brushes casually in her hand, a true master of her craft.

    A women with white hair and a hat wearing a blue silk dress
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Marie-Antoinette with the Rose (1783, oil on canvas, 113 x 87 cm) Public Domain
    An artist with a hat in a pink dress holding a paint palette
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Self-portrait in a Straw Hat (after 1782, oil on canvas, 97.8 x 70.5 cm) Public Domain
    Interactive Element: Elisabeth Vigee Le Brun

    At 15, Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun was painting the aristocracy; in her 20s, she was the favored painter of Marie Antoinette, and by her 30s, she was fleeing the French Revolution. Learn more about this 18th-century portrait painter with Associate Curator Francesca Whitlum-Cooper.

    Marie-Suzanne Giroust Roslin

    Marie-Suzanne Giroust Roslin, a Parisian born in 1734, faced an early orphanage. She spent her lifetime in Paris, studying art under reputed teachers and living with relatives. Despite marrying another artist and giving birth to six children, she continued pursuing her passion for art. Her talent was recognized when she became one of the 15 women ever accepted into the Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture before the Revolution. She was known for using pastels and was considered one of the most exceptional talents of her time. Although historians believe she made fewer than thirty pieces, her artistic legacy endures. "While her earlier work is not of uniform achievement, the final pastels have a virtuosity…, limited only by the restricted palette she seems to have chosen."[1]

    The work of art that Giroust presented as his reception piece for the Academie was a stunning pastel portrait of the renowned sculptor Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (5.4.3), executed on a backdrop of blue paper. The work was highly regarded for its spectacular use of color, adding vibrancy and liveliness to the portrait. However, due to the delicate nature of the paper, the portrait is relatively smaller in size when compared to other oil paintings that are exhibited in the Academie. The work's composition is designed in a standard format that features a distinguished gentleman with a well-groomed wig seated against a simple background, with a small sculpture placed nearby. Giroust's artistic ability is showcased in her miniature portrait (5.4.4) of the architect Marie-Joseph Peyre. Creating such an exquisite piece of work with pastels was indeed challenging, as the sheen of Peyre's blue coat and the intricate lace and trim required extraordinary attention to detail. Despite the difficulties faced, Giroust produced a beautiful portrait, with Peyre's pale face and powdered hair providing a striking contrast against the dark background. Giroust's attention to detail and her skillful use of pastels have resulted in a truly magnificent piece of captivating and breathtaking work.

    A man with white curly hair wearing a black jacket and a blue scarf
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Jean-Baptiste Pigalle (1770, pastel on blue paper, 91 x 73 cm) Public Domain
    a man with white hair wearing a blue silk jacket and a white shirt
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Marie-Joseph Peyre (1771, pastel, 63.5 x 55 cm) Public Domain

    Anne Vallayer-Coster

    Vallayer-Coster was a painter who focused on still life using oils on canvas. Unlike the typical portraits of her time, she chose not to paint them. Due to societal norms, drawing nude models was not permissible for women, a prerequisite for higher genres. As a result, still life was considered a less challenging form of art, thus, appropriate for female artists. With a meticulous approach, Vallayer-Coster developed her skills in this area, utilizing detailed brush strokes to perfect her craft. One art historian stated, "bold, decorative lines of her compositions, the richness of her colors and simulated textures, and the feats of illusionism she achieved in depicting a wide variety of objects, both natural and artificial."[2] She was accepted by the Academie and a painter for the queen, earning her an apartment in the Louvre.

    The Attributes of Music (5.4.5) by Vallayer-Coster is a stunning artwork that captures the essence of music beautifully and harmoniously. The instruments in the painting are arranged diagonally, with some lying flat and others round, creating a sense of spontaneity and movement. The artist uses a broad palette of colors, with a light sheet of music in the background and a blue ribbon that adds to the overall movement of the piece. The attention to detail in this painting is remarkable, and every element seems to work together seamlessly to create a sense of balance and harmony. In Vase of Flowers with a Bust of Flora (5.4.6) Vallayer-Coster demonstrates her mastery of color and composition. A Louis XVI desk anchors the painting with a marble top, forming the image's base. The parted drapes in the background create depth and light through the white curtains, while the bust of Flora adds width and completeness to the overall composition. The precisely arranged white flowers in the vase and the darker background flowers create a sense of contrast and depth, while the addition of fruit and branches strewn casually across the desk adds a touch of rustic charm to the otherwise formal setting. Overall, Vallayer-Coster's attention to detail and masterful use of color and composition make both The Attributes of Music and Vase of Flowers with a Bust of Flora genuinely breathtaking works of art. Each painting tells a unique story and captures a moment in time with remarkable precision and beauty.

    A vignette of musical instruments on a table
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Attributes of Music (1770, oil on canvas, 88 x 116 cm) Public Domain
    a blue vase sitting on a wood table next to a marble bust
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Vase of Flowers with a Bust of Flora (1774, oil on canvas, 154 x 130 cm) Public Domain

    Adélaïde Labille-Guiard

    Although Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (1749-1803) married young, she also separated from her husband to begin her studies in art, a complex path for a female artist. She first learned to paint miniatures before moving to large portraits using pastels and oils, and she was admitted into the Academie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture at the same time as Vigee-Le Brun. During the French Revolution, Labille-Guiard stayed in France, trying to renew herself as an artist for the new Republic, painting portraits of the leaders. However, the government destroyed most of her work, and she never recovered her career.

    Self Portrait with Two Pupils (5.4.7) is Labille-Guiard's most important work. In the life-sized painting, she is sitting in front of her easel. Two students stood behind her, eagerly learning how to paint. The light blue dress and matching ribbon on her hat portray her as a successful artist while the students are clothed in simpler garments. The faces of all three women stand out against the dark background, an example of Labille-Guiard's skill with color.

    Princess Marie Adélaïde was one of the daughters of Louis XV. The purpose of life for the girls was to marry someone from another country who would help the king expand or maintain his status. The king's oldest daughter married at twelve; however, most of Europe was Protestant. Few Catholic royalty were left as suitable matches for the other girls, so Princess Marie Adélaïde never married and languished at Versailles. The princess gained an enemy when her nephew became king and married Marie Antoinette. Labille-Guiard portrayed the older princess, Princess Marie Adélaïde of France (5.4.8), as she painted a medallion of her late parents and brother, brush in one hand and towel in the other. Her elegant red robe highlights the center of the painting, with the green chair in the background as the perfect sparring colors. The detailed silver and gold dress and white lace demonstrate Labille-Guiard's talent in precision painting. The background is lighter than most paintings, and the details of the walls and columns are visible.

    Three women in silk gowns around a canvas while one of them who is seated is painting
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Self-portrait with Two Pupils (1785, oil on canvas, 210.8 x 151.1 cm) Public Domain
    A woman in a very bright red dress in a room with a chair, stool and mirror
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Princess Marie Adélaïde of France (1787, oil on canvas, 271 x 194 cm) Public Domain

    Interactive Element: Adelaide Labille Guiard

    Adélaïde Labille-Guiard (11 April 1749 – 24 April 1803), also known as Adélaïde Labille-Guiard des Vertus, was a French miniaturist and portrait painter - Rococo to Neoclassicism.

    Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux

    Rose-Adélaïde Ducreux (1761-1802) was born in Paris. Her father was a wealthy artist, and she originally studied painting with him. Ducreux had a short life. After she married and moved to Saint-Domingue, she died of yellow fever. Ducreux benefited from the new Salons opening in the 1790s like some lesser-known female artists. The restriction of accepting only well-known artists was lifted, and female artists held exhibitions at a few welcoming Salons. Ducreux was also a musician and talented as a performer and composer. She frequently incorporated instruments in her paintings. Musical aptitude demonstrated a woman's femininity and enhanced her marriage prospects. Ducreux also generally posed the figure asymmetrically, off to the side. The figure was posed to perform some activity while looking at the viewer. Ducreux did not sign her work, and the paintings were assigned to other artists. Recent evaluations have properly designated her as the artist, although much of her work is still unknown.

    Ducreux made her Salon debut with her painting, Self-Portrait with a Harp (5.4.9). She painted herself standing before a harp, the detailed music score visible through the strings. Ducreux is dressed in an elaborate gown with silky folds and a fashionable tight-fitting bodice. The perfect vertical stripes on her silk taffeta dress display her artistry capability, and the extravagant Rococo dress starkly contrasts the more subdued background. The background may reflect the hatred of the Revolution against luxury and the king's rule; however, the painting represents the transition of excesses before the rebellion and the more simplistic ideals afterward. Self-portrait (5.4.10) depicts a double view of the artist painting herself as the main image and as the person on the oval canvas. This painting was completed in 1799 after the country moved from excessive clothing, castles, and royalty. The dress on Ducreux is much more subdued. Gone are the elegant silks seen in the other painting. Now she is wearing a simpler white gown, with only the blue embroidery pattern on the bottom of the dress added embellishment. Several music sheets are lying on the floor, demonstrating her continual interest in music. Ducreux used a muted palette, the little light from the side defining highlights.

    Woman wearing a beautiful silk dress in white and green playing a harp
    Figure \(\PageIndex{9}\): Self-portrait with a Harp (oil on canvas, ca.1791, 193 x 128.9 cm) (Public Domain)
    A woman in a white toga sitting on a chair staring into a mirror
    Figure \(\PageIndex{10}\): Self-portrait (oil on canvas, 1799, 195.5 x 130 cm) (Public Domain)

    Marie-Victoire Lemoine

    Marie-Victoire Lemoine (1754-1820) was born in France to middle-class parents. The oldest of four girls, she never married and lived with her family throughout her life. Lemoine was one of the few women painters of the period to earn a living by selling her art. Two of her sisters were also artists. Lemoine had painting lessons from different artists, including Élisabeth Louise Vigée-LeBrun. Lemoine painted several portraits of royal court members, indicating an early relationship with the court. Her work was generally composed of genre paintings and miniatures and exhibited in post-Revolutionary Salons. The Académie Royale admitted Lemoine in 1783 when she was twenty-nine.

    In her Self-portrait artwork from May 4th, 2011, Lemoine depicted herself in a classical white silk robe with violets adorning her hair, sitting in front of an easel with her right hand poised to paint. Despite her body being turned away from the canvas, Lemoine's reflective and contemplative style still captured her likeness with depth and sensitivity. Her masterful use of painting techniques and attention to detail were evident in her refined style. In the painting, Lemoine holds a palette loaded with paint and brushes in her left hand, while her use of chiaroscuro techniques and positioning of light creates striking highlights against dark backgrounds. In The Interior of an Atelier of a Woman Painter from May 4th, 2012, Lemoine portrayed herself and her sister Maire-Elisabeth. Though the painting was finished in 1789, it was not exhibited in the Salon until post-Revolutionary reforms made it possible for female artists to showcase their work. The portrait style of the painting was typical for women. Still, the subject matter of Lemoine standing in front of a canvas to work on a historical painting was usually considered inappropriate for women at the time. However, the painting also expressed the female capability to paint and teach. Throughout the canvas, prominent colors of green and mauve were echoed, with Lemoine's white dress dominating the center.

    Figure \(\PageIndex{11}\): Self-Portrait (ca. 1785, 118 x 90 cm) (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International)
    A woman teaching a young child how to draw and paint
    Figure \(\PageIndex{12}\): The Interior of an Atelier of a Woman Painter (oil on canvas, 1789, 116.5 x 88.9 cm) (Public Domain)

    Interactive Element: Marie-Victoire Lemoine

    Born in Paris, Marie-Victoire Lemoine was the older daughter of four sisters of Charles Lemoine and Marie-Anne Rousselle. Her sisters, Marie-Denise Villers, and Marie-Élisabeth Gabiou, also became painters. Ela was the first cousin of Jeanne-Elisabeth Chaudet on her mother's side. Unlike her sisters, she remained single and became one of the few women in contemporary art who made a living through painting.

    [1] Jeffares, N., Dictionary of Patellists Before 1800, retrieved from

    [2] Michel, M. R.. "Vallayer-Coster, Anne". Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. Retrieved from

    This page titled 5.4: Rococo (1715 - 1789) is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Deborah Gustlin & Zoe Gustlin (Open Educational Resource Initiative at Evergreen Valley College) .

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