American Rococo: Evolution in Style

Jason Busch, Carnegie Museum of Art

Tuesday, September 14, 2010Mini-exhibit: 7:15pmLecture: 8:00pm
de Young Museum
Philadelphia Armchair 1853 by Charles H. White

Armchair, ca. 1853, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, manufactured by Charles H. White, 1796-1876, walnut with original printed wool upholstery, Richard L. Simmons Acquisition Fund

Portsmouth China table 1770 attributed to Robert Harrold

China table, ca. 1770, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, attributed to Robert Harrold, active 1765-1792, mahogany, white pine and brass, gift of the Richard King Mellon Foundation

The rococo style, adapted from the French term rocaille and the Italian barocco, and its succeeding revivals eschewed classical order and symmetry and embraced inspiration from nature. The style emerged in France during the first half of the 18th century, particularly during Louis XV’s reign, 1715-1744, and found its way to America through England, being firmly rooted in the colonies prior to the American Revolution.

American furniture makers were inspired by the fluid, s-scroll designs popularized by Thomas Chippendale and his contemporaries, as well as actual English objects. William Hogarth, in his 1753 The Analysis of Beauty, popularized the sinuous “line of beauty” that embodied liveliness and excited the viewer’s attention. The “line of beauty” appeared in serpentine crest rails, stiles framing an intricately outlined chair splat, compass-shaped seats and cabriole legs. Furniture makers along the Eastern seaboard developed distinct regional characteristics to their products that have become tell-tale clues to connoisseurs of colonial furniture today.

By the 1830s and ’40s, Americans came to reaccept the asymmetrical, naturalistic designs originally popularized by Chippendale. This time around, Americans were principally inspired by European patterns books, such as those of Désiré Guimard and Pierre de la Mésangère. A new wave of American and Euro-American furniture makers and furnishing retailers, like Alexander Roux, John Henry Belter and Prudent Mallard, spread the style from New York to New Orleans. Lavishly gilded and handsomely carved objects and interiors evoke the craze for the Rococo revival or French Antique style during the mid-19th century. The revival persisted well into the late 19th century, and can be seen as inspiration to curvaceous Art Nouveau designs.

Jason T. Busch will reveal the story of the Rococo in American furniture throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Iconic objects made and used from New England to the Mississippi Valley will illustrate the lecture. The discussion will be framed around important designers and makers, regional tastes and characteristics, and social and artistic contexts for decorating with this highly popular and persistent style.

Jason Busch is The Alan G. and Jane A. Lehman Curator of Decorative Arts and head of department at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh. Mr. Busch is responsible for renovating and reinstalling the museum’s galleries, which include decorative arts, modernist design and contemporary craft that recently reopened—-after a hiatus of 10 years..

After graduating from Miami University of Ohio with a bachelor’s degree in American Studies, Jason Busch received his master’s degree in Early American Culture from the Winterthur Program in Early American Culture at the University of Delaware. Mr. Busch has held fellowships and internships at the National Park Service, Historic Deerfield (Massachusetts), Colonial Williamsburg, and the Cincinnati Historical Society. Mr. Busch was formerly Associate Curator of Architecture, Design, Decorative Arts, Craft and Sculpture, and Curator of the Grand Salon from the Hôtel Gaillard de La Bouëxière (Paris, circa 1735), at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and Assistant Curator of American Decorative Arts at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut.

Mr. Busch is a frequent contributor of articles to The Magazine Antiques and Antiques and Fine Art. His contributions to decorative arts scholarship have culminated in several exhibitions and publications, including Rococo: The Continuing Curve 1730-2008 (Cooper Hewitt Museum, 2008), Currents of Change: Art and Life Along the Mississippi River, 1850 - 1861 (Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2004) and George Washington: In Profile (Wadsworth Atheneum, 1999). He is co-organizing the catalogue-exhibition Displaying the World: Decorative Arts at World’s Fairs, 1851-1939, which will be shown at Carnegie Museum and the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas City in 2012. He also edited Carnegie Museum of Arts: Decorative Arts and Design Collection Highlights (2010).

“Destination Pittsburgh,” in the January/February 2010 issue of The Magazine Antiques, describes Jason Busch’s reinstallation of the decorative arts galleries at the Carnegie Museum of Art. Expect to see different styles, from different time periods, juxtaposed to show similarities—-and relationships—-in materials, design and technology.

7:15pm mini-exhibit

Hogarth’s sinuous “line of beauty,” best exemplified by the cabriole leg of Queen Anne and Chippendale furniture, has been appreciated over and over again. Bring your Rococo Revival and Art Nouveau objects for everyone to appreciate: Victorian and Art Nouveau chairs—-especially Belter chairs or their unlamented kin, posters, ornately chased silver, molded glass, pottery, coverlets, quilts, wallpaper or any other medium.


Koret Auditorium, de Young Museum, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Enter from Level B1 of the parking garage; pedestrians enter from the concourse side of Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive and down the steps across the street from the museum’s main entrance.