Neoclassical and Rococo styles contrast to each other. Neoclassicism appeared in 1780s, following Rococo style. Neoclassicism was a reaction to fluffiness and elaboration of Rococo style. These two movements gave rise after Baroque, one of the most impressive periods in the history of art.
Rococo movement gave rise against Baroque at the end of the reign of the Sun King, Louis XIV. Baroque artists used geometrical shapes and aimed to give a dramatic and theatrical effect. It was complex and highly elaborated. Large scale designs were one of the basic features of Baroque. Scenes from Bible were used as Baroque themes. Baroque artists aimed to evoke a feeling of respect and fear and to emphasize the power of the Sun King. When the king died, the court artists moved away from formal Baroque art to a lighter and playful style, which was Rococo.
If we assume Baroque as a bottle of champagne, Rococo can be assumed as the foam on the champagne. Rococo art has some stylistic features of Baroque such as the complex forms, but the themes the Rococo artists are interested in were lighter. They did not deal with serious issues such as religious, moral or political themes. Instead, they focused on lively physical world, social life of aristocracy, personal amusement, romance and pleasure.Rococo style was characterized by asymmetry, curved lines and ornaments. Mostly, soft, pastel colors were used in Rococo style in contrast to dark colors of Baroque period. On the contrary to magnificent architecture and huge marble statues of Baroque period, Rococo style expressed itself mostly in small-scale interior designs, furniture, tapestries, porcelains and paintings. It is generally known as a decorative art style.
At the end of eighteenth century, Neoclassicism appeared as a reaction to the elaboration, lightness and bourgeoisie of Rococo style and focused on proportional and simple forms, virtual themes and Roman antiquity. Neoclassical artists cared for technical perfection, harmony and balance. Geometrical forms and columns were the main features of Neoclassical style. Sharp colors were used in contrast to pale colors of Rococo. Neoclassicism was a strong movement in literature and music as well as in architecture and visual arts.
Interest in Roman antiquity aroused with the archeological studies of the period. Discovery of antique ruins stimulated an admiration of civilization, art and glories of Greek and Roman era. The taste of art totally changed and ideal beauty of antique art was favored rather than nature itself. The neoclassical artists were inspired by noble simplicity of Greek and Roman figures. Meanwhile, it was the period of revolutionary movements and ancient Greek democracy was highly appreciated in this period. After serving to French Revolution, Neoclassicism had been the official art of the French empire when Napoleon took over power and aimed to show the magnificence of the empire with heroic figures. Neoclassical themes were based on virtues such as heroism, courage, honor, justice, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice. Neoclassicism dominated until the end of nineteenth century.