Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rococo engravings by Jacques Charton

In the early 18th century, France turned away from imperial aspirations to focus on more personal and pleasurable pursuits. As political life and private morals relaxed, the change was mirrored by a new style in art, one that was more intimate, and decorative.

Louis XIV's desire to glorify his dignity and the magnificence of France had been well served by the monumental and formal qualities of most seventeenth-century French art. But members of the succeeding court began to decorate their elegant homes in a lighter, more delicate manner. This new style has been known since the last century as "rococo," from the French word, rocaille, for rock and shell garden ornamentation. First emerging in the decorative arts, the rococo emphasized pastel colors, sinuous curves, and patterns based on flowers, vines, and shells. Painters turned to the sensual surface delights of color and light, and from weighty religious and historical subjects to more intimate scenes.

These original hand-colored engravings from a collection of fifty-nine from Jacques Charton’s, Collection de plantes etrangeres en fleurs, fruits, corail et coquillages are splendid examples of the French decorative arts produced in Paris in 1784, just previous to the French Revolution. These lovely engravings, most likely executed for porcelain designs, show a variety of exotic natural history subjects, mainly flowering plants and shells, accompanied by animals or insects, some with accompanying background vignettes. The style of representation ranges from the mildly stylized but naturalistic to the intensely fantastical, verging on the surreal such as, a selection of "fruits of the sea" hanging from the branches of a plant emerging from a seashell. This style would soon give way to one that adhered to the austerity and democratic spirit of the revolutionaries at the end of the century.

A full catalog of images from this exceedingly rare and aesthetically beautiful suite of engravings is available at your request.

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