Back to imamuseum.org

The Evolution of Rococo

Today’s guest blogger is DAS member Sheri Conner. Sheri is an interior designer who teaches history of furniture and other courses for the Art Institute Online Division’s Interior Design program.

How did we get from this …

Fig: 1, Nicolas Heurtaut, 1755, Suite of four fauteuils à la reine (flat-back armchairs) © 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/set-four-fauteuil-la-reine-armchairs

Fig: 1, Nicolas Heurtaut, 1755, Suite of four fauteuils à la reine (flat-back armchairs)
© 1994 RMN / Daniel Arnaudet

… to this …

Fig. 2, John Belter (American), “Armchair,” 1855 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. C. Harvey Bradley, 80.482

Fig. 2, John Belter (American), “Armchair,” 1855
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mrs. C. Harvey Bradley, 80.482

… to this?!

Fig. 3, Alessandro Mendini (Italian, b. 1931), “Poltrona di Proust” lounge chair, 1978 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Robertine Daniels Art Fund in Memory of Her Late Husband, Richard Monroe Fairbanks Sr. and Her Late Son, Michael Fairbanks, 2013.15 © Alessandro Mendini

Fig. 3, Alessandro Mendini (Italian, b. 1931), “Poltrona di Proust” lounge chair, 1978
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Robertine Daniels Art Fund in Memory of Her Late Husband, Richard Monroe Fairbanks Sr. and Her Late Son, Michael Fairbanks, 2013.15
© Alessandro Mendini

And what the heck does THIS have to do with it???

Fig. 4, François Boucher (French, 1703-1770), “Idyllic Landscape with Woman Fishing,” 1761 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herman C. Krannert, 60.248

Fig. 4, François Boucher (French, 1703-1770), “Idyllic Landscape with Woman Fishing,” 1761
Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Herman C. Krannert, 60.248

Rococo style originated in Paris during the reign of King Louis XV. Upon the death of his great-grandfather Louis XIV, the Regent temporarily relocated the aristocratic center from the palace of Versailles to Paris. The new court quarters consisted of townhomes and apartments, creating a need for smaller scaled furnishings. In her book, The Annotated Mona Lisa, Carol Strickland describes the period as, “… a shift in French art and society from the serious and grandiose to the frothy and superficial,” noting that, “… the nobility lived a frivolous existence devoted to pleasure.” Décor took on a light appearance in terms of scale, color and ornamentation to fit with the intimate interiors and care-free lifestyle. Other European countries and the U.S. had their own interpretations of Rococo style.

The name Rococo derives from the French rocaille, which means shell. Rococo style is primarily associated with the decorative arts; however, painters of the time embraced it wholeheartedly. François Boucher for example, was commissioned to paint large-scale bucolic scenes consisting of rosy-cheeked goddesses and putti frolicking in lush gardens and pastoral landscapes (fig. 4). These themes were also translated into furniture design (fig 1). Rococo art and design has been described as romantic, idyllic, curvaceous, naturalistic, and asymmetrical.

Rococo styled seating and case pieces were curvilinear and visually delicate. Carved shells, flowers and botanical forms, scrolls, fruit, cherubs, and serpentine lines are all distinctive features of Rococo furniture. The cabriole leg is highly indicative of Rococo style, often terminating in scrolled, or claw and ball feet. Upon discovery of the ruins of Pompeii, Rococo design fell out of style giving way to the Neoclassic period.

Fast forward 100 years. Rococo is revived! Nineteenth century Rococo Revival furniture is larger, heavier, darker, more symmetrical and heavily carved. Industrial techniques were employed such as mechanical carving, coil springs for comfort, and new methods for laminating and bending wood. Original Rococo furniture was only available to royalty and the wealthy elite. This, along with the affordability rendered by mass production, made the revival version popular among the rising middle class during Victoria’s reign in England.

Pamela Wiggins asserted in her article, Who Was John Henry Belter?, “When it comes to Rococo Revival furniture, John Henry Belter (fig. 2) was no doubt the master craftsman working in the mid-1800s.” He is known for innovations in lamination and carving, securing patents for several techniques and mechanisms related to furniture manufacturing. Belter brought high furniture design to the U.S.; finally we were on par with Europe! Often imitated by his contemporaries, Belter destroyed plans and molds of his furniture so it would be very difficult to duplicate after his death.

Time ticked on … design along with it. Between the wars, furniture designers created radical revolutionary objects for the purpose of mass production. The Modernist Tradition led contemporary design into the later decades of the 2oth century. It viewed design as industry. Stemming from the Bauhaus’ early rejection of historic forms and ornamentation, designers working in the Modern mode embraced geometric forms and new materials like tubular steel and plastic. Form was ever ruled by function.

Along came the Italian design groups Alchemia and Memphis, who promoted a design-as-art ideal in the late 1970s/early 1980s. Based on this new Postmodern approach, design welcomed a decorative, historicizing tradition. Function was secondary. Manufacturers began to hire international designers who were raised to the level of superstars. People like Alessandro Mendini (fig. 3) viewed themselves as “non-designers,” creating personas and brands identifiable as their own style.

Handmade, one-of-a-kind, limited editions replaced mass production. Common recognizable forms and historic styles were resurrected in new and exaggerated ways marked by pattern, ornament, rich color, and luxury. Flexibility and range of materials allowed new sculptural possibilities for furniture. Postmodernist designers in a sense, mined history to conceive works like Mendini’s Proust armchair. Can you see it gestating in Boucher’s idyllic landscape?

 

Creating an Autoportrait: Alba Fernandez-Keys

Today's blogger, Alba Fernandez-Keys, is the head of the libraries and archives at the IMA.

Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

The fourth in this series features Alba Fernandez-Keys, head of the libraries and archives at the IMA.

autoportrait_afk_031714_01

I’ve spent the majority of my professional career with the IMA Library and Archives so this department figures prominently in my auto-portrait. I have worked at the IMA for almost 14 years in various capacities—I am currently the Head of the Libraries and Archives. I graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson.  It was the job at the IMA that brought me from the sunny Southwest to snowy — but beautiful — Indy.

Ledger dated 1908.

Ledger dated 1908.

The library was first listed in the annual report as an individual department of the John Herron Art Institute in 1908. The first item accessioned in the ledger also dates from this year. What began as a small group of books and magazines donated by members has now grown to be a collection of over 100,000 items in multiple formats and languages. When the new IMA building opened in 1971 (at our current location on the former Lilly Estate) the library was named in honor of Eleanor Evans Stout, trustee and board officer from 1968 to 1972. Green, purple and orange were the three colors used in the original design of the library.

autoportrait_afk_031714_03

The old library on Krannert Pavilion.

This year marks the 4th anniversary of the establishment of the IMA Archives. Starting an archives is a huge endeavor that requires dedicated staff to organize, arrange and process large volumes of historical materials. I think of the Archives as the place where we maintain our institutional memory. Many of the decisions our staff make with regards to our collections and buildings are based on documents and correspondence preserved by our department. Although we still have a lot of work to do, we are proud to have several  fully processed collections accessible to researchers and are in the middle of a large digitization project, Documenting Modern Living: Digitizing the Miller House and Garden.

 

Creating an Autoportrait: Justin Grange

Today's guest blogger is Justin Grange, budget, planning and procurement manager at the IMA.

Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

The third in this series features Justin Grange, the IMA’s budget, planning and procurement manager.

Like many of Robert Indiana’s “Autoportraits,” I’ve decided to make mine personal as it reflects the things that I am most proud of at one of the happiest times in my life thus far.

autoportrait_jg_031014_04

The 3 celebrates my third year working in my dream position with the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Most people don’t know this about me, but before I ventured into the professional world of Finance and Accounting, I was a fine arts student double majoring in painting and furniture design. Always curious how I would meld my artistic and business talents, the IMA provided the perfect opportunity and has allowed me to work within an industry in which I am truly passionate.

Justin Grange tackles Autoportraits and budgets at the IMA.

Justin Grange tackles Autoportraits and budgets at the IMA.

ROBIN and EMMA are my wife and daughter. The two most important ladies in my life, they have played and continue to play a big role in shaping who I am today.

The numbers 112 and 909 reflect the date of November 29, 2009. This was the day that a new chapter began in my life, my daughter’s birthday. A day full of emotions (love, hope, excitement, confusion, fear), I never really felt grown up until I realized I was going to be responsible for bringing up another human being; but each day since has been an exciting challenge full of surprises and happiness.

FISHERS is the community where our family has planted roots and where many memories have been formed. We now refer to Fishers as our home and share in that experience with family, friends, and great neighbors.

Crimson and Cream are the colors of my alma mater, Indiana University. GO HOOSIERS! Orange just happens to be my favorite color as it’s warm, but also fiery, exciting, and energetic all at the same time. If I could paint any color as a representation of my personality, it would be orange.

 

Creating an Autoportrait: Corey Venable

Corey Venable is the IMA's junior graphic designer since October 2013.

Obscured beneath the simple words, numbers, shapes, and colors found in much of Robert Indiana’s work are essential memories and symbols of the artist’s life. Indiana’s visual vocabulary is encrypted with personal symbolism. This is particularly evident in his long series of Autoportraits.

To complement The Essential Robert Indiana, on view through May 4, the IMA invites visitors both on-site and online to Create Your Autoportrait using some of the same elements that Robert Indiana incorporates in to his. During the run of the exhibition, IMA staff members will be creating their own Autoportraits and blogging about it.

The second in this series features Corey Venable, junior graphic designer at the IMA since October 2013.

“… don’t stop until you get what you love. Work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time.”

— Debbie Millman, host of the Design Matters radio show

To me, this is essentially what this is all about.

I try to take things as they come and, five years ago, I moved to Indianapolis to pursue my college degree. I chose 3 because 13 is my lucky number. I was born on the 13th and consider it lucky even when most people consider it an unlucky number. Fort Wayne was my 260, my hometown. On July 19  (719) of this year, I will be married to the man who proposed to me in the doorway to HERRON School of Art and Design, the evening of my senior show. Herron was my home, my CHALLENGE, and my passion. I always think of what’s in front of me, and what challenge to tackle next. To choose to stay in Indy following graduation was hard, but it’s turned out to be one of the best thing’s I have done. Yellow makes me think of the sun, which is beautiful at sunset, and peach and blue are my favorite (and wedding) colors.

And that’s me, in an Autoportrait.

autoportrait_cv_030314_lo

 

IBM Selectric II Typewriter

Today's blogger is Mary Inchauste, Design Arts Society Board member and Associate Principal at CSO Architects, Inc.

Right near the entrance to the new Contemporary Design gallery, proudly displayed is an electric typewriter, a big blue IBM Selectric II.

The original Selectric was introduced in July 1961, and changed the way offices functioned until the advent of the personal computer. The industrial design is credited to Eliot Noyes. The Selectric II entered the market in 1971 with additional features.

Eliot Fette Noyes, designer (American, 1910- 1977), The IBM Corporation, manufacturer IBM Selectric II Typewriter, 1971 Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Lee and Dorothy Alig, 2011.283

Eliot Fette Noyes, designer (American, 1910- 1977), The IBM Corporation, manufacturer; IBM Selectric II Typewriter, 1971; Indianapolis Museum of Art, Gift of Lee and Dorothy Alig, 2011.283

I had to smile as I noticed it in the case, remembering the ones my Dad had in his dental office. It was a big deal, and cost a lot. As Dad recalls, people thought he was crazy spending that kind of money. At the time, there were no effective office copier, no word processors. The Selectric Typewriters had many ingenious features that opened up a whole world of possibilities in a small office and saved lots of time (efficiency!) for his staff of one.

Manual typewriters used fixed keys, which moved up to strike the carbon and paper to make each letter. Some practice and skill was necessary to get the fingers to push the keys hard enough to make a good imprint, and rhythm to hit the keys in a way that didn’t jumble the flying letter arms. The paper carriage moved across the machine and, to start another line, one pulled the lever (advancing the paper one line) and then pushed it to the right to start position. Only one typeface and type size was available with no way to change it. You had either a pica or elite type size, one typeface.

For a good typist, the manual typewriter worked fine for letters and manuscripts, but not so great for forms and other kinds of documents, as needed in a dental practice. For me, the manual typewriter was a significant challenge. I was terrible on the keys – it was tough to get consistent pressure on the letters. I made lots of mistakes, so had to either start over or try the challenge of erasing tape and white out. Despite my efforts to learn to spell, I made lots of spelling mistakes also, with no easy way to quickly correct them.

Photo courtesy of: http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/images/icp/Z491903Y91074L07/us__en_us__ibm100__selectric__selectric_2__900x746.jpg

Photo courtesy of: http://www-03.ibm.com/ibm/history/ibm100/images/icp/Z491903Y91074L07/ us__en_us__ibm100__selectric__selectric_2__900x746.jpg

The innovative typewriters by IBM were electric, so mastering the key stokes was so much easier. The type was positioned on a “ball” with four rows of 22 letters. The mechanism moved the ball, rotating and raising it to the letter matching your key stroke, then “throwing” the ball against the ribbon and paper. Every letter had the same pressure and looked the same. The ball moved across the paper which remained stationary. At the end of a line, just hit the return key, no worries about not getting paper in the right place, and faster!

The type balls were interchangeable, opening up the flood gates for users’ creativity! Type “balls” are available in pica or elite size, italic, different fonts and also with foreign language alphabets, scientific characters … endless possibilities! Eventually, Dad had six type balls and I remember typing high school math and science reports using the scientific symbols. One had a conversion chart (looking like a keyboard) showing “A” key = which scientific symbol. Sounds tedious today, but a big deal then. One could type a paragraph in italics or increase the type size, such as a heading, very easily in the same page. These type balls were genius!

Another great feature was the erase key. Prior typing errors had to be corrected by manually moving the paper back to position of the error letter, inserting a white erase paper and typing the wrong letter to be covered by the white carbon. The carriage would still advance, so you had to realign the paper again and type the new letter. Or use the liquid white out, wait for it to dry and try to line up the text to retype. Either way, mistakes were pretty glaring. Usually it was best to just start over on a new piece of paper. Blah! With the IBM Selectric, you could just back space to the letter or word that needed to be changed, and press the erase key. Type the wrong letter and it would bring up a white erasing ribbon, remove/cover the error and not advance the ball. Then type the correct letter. Easy!

My third favorite feature was the memory. Depending on the models, the IBM Selectric could save text and reproduce it. The typewriter Dad had in the late ’60s could save whole documents, up to a limited number of characters, about two pages. Type your document, then insert another piece of paper and it would type out an exact copy from memory.

The whole story of the IBM Selectric II is pretty amazing and highlights the impact that good industrial design has on our lives. If you want to learn more, there is a wealth of information available online. Check it out!

 

About Guest Blogger

The IMA is always looking for new definitions of art. So we’ve asked guest bloggers to share their thoughts on the subject.

Guest Blogger has written 107 articles for us.