Date of Award

2021

Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Fine and Decorative Art and Design

First Advisor

Elizabeth Pergam

Second Advisor

Ann-Marie Richard

Abstract

Often regarded as purely decorative, obsolete, and inconsequential, the rococo paintings of eighteenth-century France acquire historical significance and contemporary resonance once interpreted with fresh eyes. After the French Revolution, rococo paintings were associated with the politics and aristocracy of the ancien régime, a conflation that has colored aesthetic reputation of frivolity and artifice over the course of its history. This research centers on the claim that the rococo survived the Revolution, and continues to be called upon by contemporary artists as a productive artistic idiom. First, the cultural and aesthetic significance of eighteenth-century French rococo paintings will be considered with particular attention to Antoine Watteau, François Boucher, and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. Through a summary of its etymology and historiography of reception, a distinction can be made between the rococo’s intrinsic and acquired significations. Further, consideration of the rococo’s persistence as an artistic current of influence will be analyzed in the twentieth-century works of Florine Stettheimer and Andy Warhol, and the contemporary art of Yinka Shonibare and Genieve Figgis. By acknowledging the historical biases, multivalence, and historicity of the French rococo, this exploration engages with an effort to articulate alternative histories of modernism and the potential for reappraisal of the rococo.

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