A Passion for Rococo
The elegant rococo style flourished throughout Europe for most of the 18th century. In the decorative arts, the style is characterized by gracefully curving designs and ornament inspired by forms occurring in nature, such as shells, flowers, and foliage. The term "rococo" probably derived from the French word rocaille, referring to the fanciful, rocklike creations that ornamented man-made grottoes in gardens of the late 17th and 18th centuries. In England, this style was popularized by Thomas Chippendale, the London cabinetmaker, whose publication The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker's Directory (first edition 1754) made rococo furniture designs widely available.
By the second half of the 18th century, the Chippendale style was highly fashionable in America. In the homes of wealthy colonists, naturalistic ornament appeared on furnishings ranging from silver salvers (trays) and carved mahogany furniture to less costly brass sconces and iron chimney backs (placed at the backs of fireplaces). Henry Francis du Pont was especially captivated by the rococo, or Chippendale, style. Because of his discerning eye, the Winterthur Museum is famed for the breadth and quality of its collection of American furniture and other decorative arts in this style.