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French art

The Eighteenth Century

The 18th-century aesthetic styles were named after the political periods of these turbulent eras. They include the régence style, the Louis period styles, and the Directoire style. After the ascension of Louis XV baroque monumentality was replaced by the lighter, more animated spirit of the rococo, which had early manifestation in the art of J. A. Watteau. François Boucher and J. H. Fragonard succeeded Le Brun as official painters; their decorative, sensuous style was favored by the court but not adopted generally. The genre and still-life painter J. B. Chardin and the sculptor J. A. Houdon exhibited independent tendencies.

Characteristic gracefulness and delicacy prevailed in the minor arts, exemplified in the bronze work of Jacques Caffieri and in Sèvres porcelains, produced at the royal potteries established in 1745 at Vincennes and moved to Sèvres in 1753. A self-important manner in portraiture flourished in the work of Nicolas de Largillière and Jean-Marc Nattier.

Toward the end of the 18th cent. reaction against the frivolity of court art and interest in new archaeological excavations encouraged the rise of the neoclassical style, which found government favor under the Directory, Consulate, and Empire. Its principal exponent was J. L. David, at first the king's and later Napoleon's official painter. David wielded authoritarian influence over the national taste (see Empire style).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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