Print, Rocaille (rococo design), in Nouveaux morceaux pour des paravents (New concepts for screens), 1730s
Etching, engraving on white paper. Gift of Eleanor and Sarah Hewitt. 1931-94-11
What is this?
A shell-work fountain on a mound of rockwork in the foreground, with two monkeys at the left. In the background, a temple portico houses another fountain, with vase and pyramid beside it.
Why is this important?
This engraving, a screen design by great artist François Boucher, is iconic for its inclusion of the French word rocaille. In the eighteenth century, rocaille referred to the irregular rockwork that was used to embellish picturesque grottos and garden fountains but the word has since come to be synonymous with the Rococo as a style. The design exemplifies the fanciful profusion of flora and fauna characteristic of the period.Sinuous plant forms asymmetrically frame a fountain encrusted with shells. Below, two monkeys squabble beside a flowing pool of water. The entire composition evokes motion, tempting the viewer’s eye to travel continuously. There is the sensuous suggestion that one could hear the splashing of water and feel a breeze in the air. Boucher contributed four of the five screen designs published in the Nouveaux Morceaux pour des Paravents [New Concepts for Screens]. The engraver Claude-Augustin Duflos uses a masterful balance of expressive lines and hatched marks to achieve the scene’s tonal variation and sense of liveliness. Painted in bright polychrome, the design could be applied to a multi-paneled folding screen. Freestanding screens provided privacy and invited painted ornament, creating a perfect synthesis of fine and decorative arts.