The rococo impulse took root and blossomed in France during the reign of Louis XV (r. 1715–74). France, the most powerful country in eighteenth-century Europe, enjoyed decades of internal peace and steadily growing prosperity. The arts were supported as part of the nation-state structure established by Louis XIV, which served as a profit center for exports and a vehicle for enhancing France’s international prestige. The Western world looked to France for leadership in art and style. Superb French craftsmanship and continuing innovation supported this role.
Following the death of the Sun King, informality eroded the grandeur of Versailles, and Paris became the nation’s epicenter of fashion. In 1738, the young Louis XV banished formal trappings from Versailles and asserted his own preference for intimate environments with sensuous appeal.
Decorating became a major hobby shared by the king and his mistress Madame de Pompadour. They favored flowing, curvilinear designs. The glamorous pair created sumptuous interiors furnished with commissions from Parisian masters and purchases from the trendy emporia of the marchands merciers (luxury-goods dealers). Wealthy French officials, aristocrats both French and foreign, diplomats, well-heeled tourists, and agents for foreign courts all followed suit. The years from Pompadour’s appointmentas royal mistress in 1745 until her death in 1764 mark the apogee of rococo in Paris. The aesthetic remains so closely associated with the patronage of the royal couple that in France it is still called “style Louis XV” or “style Pompadour.”