The seductive seashell

Jessica Backus
Sep 11, 2013 1:35AM

Shells were not only popular motifs during the 18th century, they were also highly sought-after collectors’ items. In fact the name of the Rococo movement – a prominent style during this time – derives from a portmanteau of the French words rocaille (decorative designs)and coquillage (shell motifs). Shells had become so popular in the eighteenth century that the important art dealer Edme Francois Gersaint focused his efforts on selling them as part of his burgeoning luxury business. A sales catalogue from 1736, the Catalogue raisonné de coquilles, Gersaint describes the unparalleled pleasure of these gems of the sea:

In effect, nothing is more seductive than the sight of a well-ordered drawer of shells; the most beautiful flower bed is not more agreeable, and the eye is so bedazzled that it hardly knows where to rest or what to admire most, the perfect form of one, or the vibrant colors of another.



McClellan, Andrew. “Watteau’s Dealer: Gersaint and the Marketing of Art in Eighteenth-Century Paris.” The Art Bulletin, Vol. 78, No. 3, Sep., 1996: 439-453.

Jessica Backus