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Eighteenth-Century painting

Although the Siècle des Lumières (the ‘century of lights’, or the Enlightenment) was that of the philosophers, it was also the century of painting. In the eighteenth century, painting comprised four major pictorial movements: rococo, the Grand Tour, neoclassicism, and Romanticism. The fête galante (an elegant outdoor party or festival) was the favourite theme of the rococo style. Inspired by costumed characters from the stage, the rococo style represented outdoor fêtes galantes and lovers in bucolic surroundings devoting themselves to games or music. The works of Watteau, Fragonard, and Boucher were characterised by gallantry and a certain melancholic quality. The portrait was also a very fashionable pictorial genre, but it was more elegant and had a lighter, softer touch.

The Grand Tour was another eighteenth-century artistic movement. It materialised on canvas the epic (lasting two to three years) excursions of young British aristocrats around Europe, designed to turn them into ‘gentlemen’. Influenced by the archaeological discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum, neoclassicism was a new pictorial movement that represented the taste for Greek and Roman art. Romanticism emerged at the end of the century and focused on individual emotions and feelings, and the imagination.