Thursday, 11 April 2013

The History of French Furniture

The History of French Furniture.

Without doubt, during the eighteenth century, the French designed and built some of the most beautiful and refined furniture ever made, displaying the highest level of artistic and technical ability. Much admired by an international clientele, it was and still is used to furnish residences initially all over Europe and now the World.

The craftsmen of France were far more advanced than the English, therefore the English craftsmen took their furniture design inspiration from them. French Period furniture follows the French Furniture Style dates as follows:

1610 - 1643 Louis 13th
1643 - 1715 Louis 14th
1715 - 1774 Louis 15th
1774 - 1793 Louis 16th
1795 - 1804 Directoire and Consulate
1804 - 1815 Empire

The major influences of French Furniture came within 1643 to 1793, the reigns of Louis 14th, 15th and 16th
Louis 14th (1642 - 1715)
The French Renaissance had lost most of it's Italian origin and had developed a character of it's own. This is when Louis 14th came to reign; he was a man with extravagant tastes. France was at the time one of the wealthiest countries in Europe therefore he was able to indulge in his passion for arts and crafts. The country had fine skilled craftsmen of enormous talent in abundance and nothing was too good or too expensive to be made. The most outstanding of these craftsmen was Andre Charles Boulle, he experimented with the Italian art form of Marquetry in brass, copper, tortiseshell and ebony. This work is now commonly called "Boulle work".

The features of the French style furniture were, wood carving, which did not have decoration, only marquetry, and often elaborate brass mounts. The surfaces of cabinets were generally flat. This is a considerable feature as the next period used curved surfaces everywhere. The main source of decoration was Boulle work. Curved and straight legs were used, with the curved dominating at the end moving to the more shapely next period.
The Palace of Versailles was commissioned by Louis 14th, it was furnished with the finest and richest French furniture that could possibly be produced. Much was destroyed during the Revolution, but what remains today is still extravagant splendour. In major contrast, England at the time was producing simple walnut furniture. On Charles II return from years of exile in France, he introduced many of the French ideas and designs to England.

Louis 15th (1715 - 1774)
The son of Louis 14th was only five years old when his father died and too young to take the reign. The Duke on Orleans was appointed Regent and took control until his death in 1723.
Changes happened in this time and the extravagant grandeur of the court was no longer. The country was not as wealthy and people lived a much quieter presence.
Changes in social standings were occurring, the aristocracy began to marry the more humble but now wealthy middle classes, bankers, merchants etc. The grand mansions that once were ostentatious and full of extravagance were replaced by smaller more intimate homes.

This meant that the style of French furniture had to change to meet the peoples new demands. It needed to be smaller, it stayed ornate but the once masculine forms were replaced by softer prettier feminine lines. Therefore the French furniture became more elegant with more ornamental decoration.
The major feature of Louis 15th French Furniture is the shaped work of the curves. This commenced in Louis 14th 's reign and was expanded upon to the extent that there was barely a straight line or, flat surface visible.

Fronts and sides of cabinets were curved in plan and elevation, which required a high level of skill for the craftsmen to apply the veneers, then there was the elaborate decoration that was usually inlaid. Guilded mounts in place of carving continued its trend.
The cabriole leg (French Version) was at it's most popular during this period. It was similar to the English, their's had a high-pronounced knee adjoining a square at the top and the bottom usually was completed with a club or claw and ball foot.
This Style of Chateau Furniture had a more flowing shape, it did not have the square at the top, the shape flowed into the rails or had a concave curve upwards and the foot was usually scrolled.
The most common of timbers used at this time were, boxwood, rosewood, mahogany, walnut, tulipwood, sycamore and ebony. Guilding and lacquering were also popular at this time.
There was a reaction to the elaborate Rococo work near the end of Louis 15th's reign and the revival of the classical spirit began in Louis 16th's reign.

Louis 16th (1774-1793)
The reaction against the work of the 18th century as well as the continued financial difficulties of his predecessor created a new style of French furniture.
The design became more refined, most of the shape work was removed and with the Queen's influence, (Marie Antoinette), who preferred the simpler forms a new style was developed.
In comparison to the English styles of the same period it was still very ornate, but compared with what had been previously in fashion it was very much simplified.
The major characteristics of this period's French furniture are the use of straight lines and flat surfaces with delicate, refined use of detail. Guilded mounts were still popular, small mouldings and light carvings were now seen.

The timbers used were the same as for the previous period adding satinwood to the list. Now that the shaped work had gone, the cabriole leg was no longer as popular; it was used in a lighter form for small beaureaux and console tables.
Light turned legs or square tapered legs which often had recessed surfaces and guilded mount decoration were then introduced.

French Decor Furniture Styles; Renaissance 2, Louis xiii, Louis xiv, xvth century, 10th - 20 century, regency, Louis xv, Shabby Chic, Louis xvi, empire, restoration, Louis Philippe, napoleon iii, art nouveau, art deco, Antoinette, rustic, chateau, bistro, provincial, RĂ©gence, Paris, Versailles.

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