Rococo is an ornate style originating in France in the 18th century and evolving from the Baroque style ("Baroque gone mad," some would quip).Rococo is applied to the Louis XV period in France (1715-1774).
The word is derived from "rocaille" (pebble), but the term referred especially to the small stones and shells used to decorate the interiors of grottoes. Such shells or shell forms were the principal motifs in Rococo ornament.
Rococo is seen both as the climax and fall of Baroque art. After the heavy works created in the Baroque style artists were ready for a change. The Rococo manner was a reaction against the “grand manner" of art identified with the baroque formality and rigidity of court life. The movement toward a lighter, more charming manner began in French architectural decoration at the end of Louis XIV"s reign (d.1715) and quickly spread across Europe. During the regency of Duke of Orleans, regent for the minor heir Louis XV, the formalities of the court gave way to a more casual and intimate atmosphere. Rococo art portrayed a world of artificiality, make-believe, and game-playing. Although less formal, it was essentially an art of the aristocracy and emphasized what seem now to have been the unreflective and indulgent lifestyles of the aristocracy rather than piety, morality, self-discipline, reason, and heroism (all of which can be found in the baroque).
The Rococo style is characterized by pastel colors, gracefully delicate curving forms, fanciful figures, and a lighthearted mood (visually and physically). The essence of Rococo art is light. Extreme highlights are placed on the subject matter and the overall work is light in color, effect, and emotion. Artists paid special attention to fine detail. Form is characterized by delicacy of color, dynamic compositions, and atmospheric effects.
Antoine Watteau is considered to be one of the first Rococo painters. He often created asymmetrical compositions. This type of aesthetic balance became not only an important part of Rococo art, but of design in general.
Eventually the Rococo art was replaced by the more serious style, Neoclassicism. Critics condemned it as "tasteless, frivolous, and symbolic of a corrupt society".