This etching, 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. The configuration of the scene is similar to screen designs by Jacques de Lajoue (Petit Palais, Paris) particularly in the placement of the stream of water in the lower third of the composition.
Boucher contributed five screen designs, including this one, 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. Rococo interiors were conceived as total works of art, with architectural ornaments, furniture and objet d'art complementing one another; painted screens would be enjoyed within a greater ensemble of coordinating fixtures of eighteenth century domestic life. Boucher’s interest in the decorative arts distinguished him throughout a fifty-year long career, in which he produced designs and models for a variety of media.
Rebekah Pollock is a Master’s student of the History of Decorative Arts and Design at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum/ Parsons the New School for Design. After graduating from the Ontario College of Art and Design with a focus in Criticism and Curatorial Studies, she is pursuing her interests in European ceramics and eighteenth century interiors.
You can read more about Boucher and Rococo in our publication Rococo: The Continuing Curve, 1730-2008 available at shop.cooperhewitt.org