Renaissance 1500 to 1610:
The cultural and artistic movement in the early 1500s was known as the French Renaissance. Under the reign of King Louis XII, the French invaded Italy, and the French were introduced to Italian paintings, furniture, products and lifestyle that were a part of the Italian Renaissance. These changes took place through the works of Italian and Flemish artistic painters and artists. A patron of the arts known as Francis I was responsible for the French Renaissance when he ascended the throne. This happened after antiquities relating to Greece and Rome were discovered thus opening the french to a world of classicalism. This led French artists and artisans, to make furniture which deeply reflected roman style.
The furniture, either depicted biblical times or ancient myths.it was also the time when artists such as Michelangelo and Raphael were inspirations.
A buffet was named after the French king who reigned between 1547 and 1559, known as Henri buffet. It is a very detailed furniture type which resembles small buildings that have balustrades that possess similarity to Grecian architecture, windows, columns, and panels. The likeness of this furniture was mass produced between 1860 and 1900 after its revival. The screens, clocks, and mirrors became commonplace while the tables had better carvings and lines. Chests were replaced with cabinets and dressers. The woods chosen for the furniture were either walnut or oak.
Louis XIII (1589-1661):
King Louis XIII became fatherless when he was eight years old. He was then raised by his mom Marie de Medici who was also regent. She commissioned peter paul Ruben’s and gave him the job of painting for her two allegorical cycles meant for the Luxembourg Palace in Italy which celebrated the life of her late husband Henry IV and her own. Louis XII’s style was said to have begun at the arrival of Ruben. The demand for furniture, textiles, and tapestries grew in this period as the middle class became richer. The provincial bourgeois who sort nice furniture but lived far from Paris were the best furniture was made, had some made for themselves having the French country look. They expected their furniture to be beautiful and comfortable.
One of the greatest inventions of this era was fixed upholstery. Large brass or golden-headed nails were used to fasten velvet or leather tapestries to the chairs wooden framework. During Louis XII’s reign, arms were added to the chairs while backs wear padded. The most popular of these chairs was the Os de Mouton chair. Its legs were shaped like lambs own. The furniture in this period also had a massive, solid construction with geometric carvings on them. They tended to be quite heavy as opposed to the other later styles. Some of the most common decorative themes include pyramid patterns, diamond points, and large bun feet located on the cabinetry. Lathe-turning techniques and moldings also influenced the designs. The decorative themes that were familiar include cherubs, flowers, and fruits.
Louis XIV (1661-1700):
The most celebrated king in France was Louis XIV. He was known as the sun king, and his reign brought a definite end to Renaissance period in French society marking the beginning of many new furniture styles. One of these furniture styles was the Baroque. During this era, France achieved a lot both internationally and locally. Louis XIV had the longest reign as a monarch in France, reigning for seventy-two years. He imposed his taste for splendor and opulence upon the kingdom. The king built the Palace of Versailles, as his official residence. This palace typified the king’s love for art and the luxurious lifestyle. While only the king sat in an armchair, the French at this period rather than build furniture for comfort built it for grandeur. During the reign of King Louis XIV, departments for painting, architecture, gardening and cabinet making were created. Manufacture des Gobelins was founded during this era. Most members of the middle class couldn’t afford these elaborate furniture. Only the royal palaces and the aristocracies had beautiful cabinet works and interiors fitted into their furniture.
The furniture was made up of mostly intricate marquetry, gilding, beautiful carving, lacquer, gold leaf decors of lion heads, dolphins, scalloped shells, the Sun, and laurels. Ornamentations wear much more popular than curves which were just modest. Damask, gold brocades, velvet, and silk were used as covers for the stools. The chairs and settees were not only elaborate, but many had stretchers. Under the reign of King Louis XIV, the fauteuil became popular. It was an upholstered chair that had open sides. Upholstered pads were eventually added to the top of these chairs. One of the essential furniture types was the writing table or desk with fine chests or commodes.
The preferred woods of this era included pear, and box, holly, etc. woods like pure oak, ebony, and walnut were not so common. The perfectly crafted Marquetry of Andre-Charles Boulle was used upon a whole piece.
At the death of Louis XIV in 1975, his successor was his five-year-old grandson. His uncle was the Duke of Orleans, Philippe d'Orleans and he was appointed regent until Louis was old enough to rule in 1723. The duke moved the royal court to Paris to curb the splendor that was then known with the sun king. In Paris, courtiers lived a less extravagant lifestyle. Thus a transition took place which brought about a very formal Rococo era of Louis XV.
French artisans had to find inspiration elsewhere as opposed to the classical forms of art prevalent in the sun king’s era.
The styles of the regent era, where inspired by the orient and themes gotten from myths. For carved and bronze -mount forms, decorative motifs were proffered. The lions head went out of fashion, but masks and Mascarons stayed. Female busts known as Espagnolette became widely used as a console and on desktops. The most distinctive motif of the Regence period were scallop shells and was more natural compared to those of the Louis XV period. The bat's wing, commode, and flowing curves were also designs. Shapes were made to look rounder like the bombe chest. The ‘S’ shaped Cabriole legs were used in bookcases, chairs, desks, and sofas. The style of French chairs in this era was pretty. The form still endures till today for antique lovers.
The best wood for furniture was oak and for cheaper ones were poplar and pine. For chairs, they made use of walnut, beech and fruit woods. For ceremonial chairs, frames and consoles gilded wood was the most preferred. The best and costliest veers were kingwood and rosewood. For drawer reinforcements, protective sabots, handles and around desktops, artisans used Ormolu.
Louis XV (1730-1760):
This period is considered the greatest of all of the periods in French history. The Rococo style which was born in this era was more sensual and playful and was regarded by historians as the Golden Age of French furniture. The Rococo style favored asymmetry, unlike the Louis XIV styles which favoured symmetry. The reign of Louis XV was a time of peace and prosperity. The Siècle des Lumiere was the order of the time with King Louis XV as its most significant supporter. Grand suits were made smaller and were made to be more elegant and comfortable. Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry were the chief mistresses of King Louis who influenced the modern styles of that era. Around 1743 to 1790, the Parisian guild members were made to sign or stamp their names on pieces of furniture, under the framing of chairs and tables and marble top commodes. This was done, to preserve the elegant appearance of the tables. The furniture was affordable for all classes of people at that time.
The seats, legs, and back of the Louis XV furniture are curved. The chairs were more feminine and became smaller. For comfort, craftsmen added springs which made the salon society more satisfied. The chaise longue which was designed to give maximum comfort was also introduced. The chairs made for Louis XV were better suited for conversation. Jean- Baptiste Tilliard was the king's chair maker who created the Bergere, a chair with a low seat a curved arm and an exposed wood frame which had fabric covered panels between the seat and arms. Thus the chair wasn’t meant to be placed against the wall but to be movable. This made furniture easily transportable with its elegance intact. Ladies furniture like dressing tables and vanities became the in thing. This also brought foreign maters to Parisian courts. Pieces with secret drawers and hidden compartment.
Floor length table clothes were used to cover the dining tables. On bronze more mounts, marquetry, and carved wood decorative motifs which were inspired by fauna and flora were placed. Scallop shells were shaped irregularly while Cartouches were put in frames of rocaille. The animal motifs of choice are doves and dolphins. Everywhere you’ll see stylized flowers. Rocaille motifs are made of acanthus. Carved into crest rails, chair knees and aprons are pastoral and romantic motifs. The cabriole leg was typical for the tables in that era. Trumeaux above the mantle and large chandeliers were common in Parisian homes at that time. Extravagant wood veneers and marquetry were what made the Louis XV furniture much more lavish compared to the Regency period. Rosewood and fruitwood were made to replace darker woods. Gilt accents were in high demand while wood was either lacquered or painted. Tabletops were made of porcelain or marble. Costlier pieces were made using Bronze-Dore
Louis XVI (1760-1789):
During the Louis XVI period, there was a return to arts made to have straight lines, classical ornamentation, and symmetry. The styles of this period are known as the most popular of the Louis styles because of its place emphasis on straight lines and complement contemporary lines. The ancient city of Pompeii was discovered in 1748and this led to a resurgence of Greco-Roman antique popularity. Nature motifs were also a part of craftsmen inspiration. The result of this style combo is known as Neo-classicalism. This style was in contrast to the Louis XV period Rococo style which was then believed to be frivolous. The rococo style which was thought to be too superfluous became less popular. The elites decided to replace the townhouses and elegant ceremonial rooms with rustic retreats. The wealthy bourgeois began using furniture that was less frivolous to relate with the ordinary people. Marie Antoinette Louis XVI’s queen also had her style.
This style was also a part of the neoclassical period. At her apartment at Versailles, there existed small furniture pieces of which she was responsible for the making. Just as had happened during King Louis XV reign, very skilled artisans were employed by the rich to create beautiful pieces with expensive materials. Patterns were also made on case wood with the natural grain of the woods to identify with the starving Parisians. The king even went on to wear a peasant hat in a portrait to prove his humility. This didn’t stop the eventual execution of him and Marie Antoinette, his wife in 1793.
In this period, the chairs we made in different styles and instead of paying attention to comfort were for decorative purposes. Though lyre or vase-shaped backs were common, a wide variety came with trapezoidal and medallion backs. Fluted or straight tapered legs were usually preferred. The most famous cabinetmaker was George Jacob. Commodes and buffets case pieces were created in an angular pattern. Architectural motifs like columns and fluting were prevalent. Prehistoric objects like urns, vases and human faces were frequent too. Pine cones, short garlands of flowers and pomegranates were usually paired with geometric designs. Turned elements were common once again.
Surrounded by oval or round medallions were intricate marquetry and floral designs. Rosette carvings, gold woods, molding and painted wood, were common too. For beautiful furniture, only imported Mahogany was used. Ebony was also fashionable at this point. The colors red, grey or white were preferred for marble décor. All the bronze fittings applied to all of the king's furniture were more for ornamental purposes rather than for protection.
One of the transitional periods in French furniture history is the Directoire period. The splendor of the royal and bourbon kings was long forgotten. The French governmental positions were now being held by a group known As the Directoire Executif. This was the most troubling period in French history, and it lasted fifteen years.
Emblems were used to describe the French revolution such as the Phrygian cap, the third estate symbol (which was a spade and a Phrygian cap), pikes which represented the freedom of man, and spirit levels which represented equality. Also, clasped hands showed fraternity, while triangles with an eye in the middle represented reason; swords were the symbol for nobility and the revolutionary tricolor flag. Egyptians motifs such as the lyre, swan, and stars were decorative. Having a curved backrest, the klismos chair which originated in ancient Greece was widely copied. The daybed known as the Recamier was a notable piece of furniture which became famous because it was used by Madame Recamier in her portrait by Jacques-Louis David.
Inlay decorations became popular again with the use of citronnier, ebony, copper, and brass. Due to economic hardships, marquetry almost disappeared. Mahogany and rosewoods which were imported became scarce. Also, brass was preferred t gilt-bronze. All the woods used to make Directoire artwork could be found in France, e.g., walnut. These woods were usually painted. The availability and quality of French furniture was affected by the war. The crafts guilds also ended in 1791 with the revolution. Complete freedom of production was allowed in all crafts as a result of the abolishment of the guilds. There was no authority on the part of the Directoire government to insist on strict adherence to quality by furniture makers.
Napoleon Bonaparte became emperor of France in 1804, and this brought an end to years of political unrest in France. This period was again inspired by the Greco-Roman models and was Neoclassical in styles. The economy had once again leaped, and this brought a craze for a new haute bourgeois aristocracy inspired furniture and decors. The Empire period furniture wasn’t unconnected to the new regime in power as it was created after the French revolution. When a person decided to have furniture relating to the revolution and empire period in his house, it showed his solidarity with the government of the day.
The makers of the empire furniture’s didn’t pay much attention to comfort when making their furniture. The chairs were either rectangular or square and had stiff backs. Only the chic gondola chair’s back had the shape of a rounded Gondola. The Emperor's wife, Josephine, loved this chair and made use of it in her dressing room. She also loved swans. All throughout Malmaison, you will see chairs, carpets, and curtains that were decorated like this. Curved and sloped saber-shaped chair legs were also introduced. Tables in vogue had claw-like feet. The corners were sharp while the surfaces were flat. Pilasters became common while small purpose furniture’s were rare.
The swan, lyre and the bows were all symbols of love and romance embraced during the empire period. The rosette and the Acanthus leaf, wear classical elements which were used alongside symbols depicting military life. Egyptian antiquities and decors overtook French culture after Napoleon returned successfully from his Egyptian campaign. Examples of Egyptian motifs that were famous included winged lions, sphinxes, lotus blossoms scarabs and caryatids. Emblems which were used regularly included Napoleon and Josephine’s initials NJ surrounded by laurel wreaths, the cornucopia or horn of plenty and the bee Emblem which were symbols of resurrection and immortality and the Crown.
They didn’t make any moldings, and the choicest woods were mahogany, ebony, and rosewood. Marble tops were either grey or black with sharp corners. Mythological creatures, swags, festoons, and torches were seen around this furniture.
Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1815, and this led to the restoration of the Bourbon dynasty to the French throne. The last of the true bourbon kings were Louis XVII (1815-1823) and Charles X (1823-1830), both were brothers of Louis XVI and were considered the last of the true bourbon kings. Both of wanted to revive the culture of the former monarchy. The industrial revolution also came at the time of the fall of Napoleons Empire. Thus, new furniture-making processes were introduced. They wanted to get back the comfort that was a significant part of the furniture of the former eras. The middle class also seemed to be getting prosperous, and this was primarily due to the high demand for furniture.
The furniture of this period was still massive and had geometric styling. However, artisans decided to give it a touch of whimsy and fantasy while the harsh contours became softer.
Cornucopia, swans garlands, rosettes and musical instruments were the decorative motifs. Smaller furniture pieces also became familiar again. The Restauration was a refinement of the Empirical style and the neoclassical style. Smaller pieces having delicate profiles and inlayed with decorations were the order of the day. Gueridons were frequently used as side tables in dining rooms and were usually mass produced and very big. The chairs either had arched backs or the legs were slightly turned out or straightened. While the back legs were made to have an outward flare.
Mahogany was replaced with orange, maple, ash, citronnier and Bois Clair woods. Marquetry and moldings also returned the latter being thin and delicate. Marbles remained in vogue and were still black, pale grey with subtle white veining. The corners of the tables became rounded having cyma profiles on their fore-edges.
Louis Philippe (1830-1848):
When the three days of war were over in 1830 which were known as Les Trois Glorieuses, Louise Philippe became king following the overthrow of Charles X. Louis Phillippe wasn’t of royal blood and as such had no right to the throne based on the traditional rights of succession. He was installed based on the validation of the people.” He became known as the citizen's king”.. this caused him to live very modestly and refusing the splendor attached to former French rulers. He tried to please everyone from the upper middleclass to the royalties the wealthy emerging businessmen and the radicals. He left everyone disgruntled.
Thus he became the final house of bourbon member to rule and the last French ruler to be called king. He disguised himself to flee Paris and died in England. The Louis Philippe style was a perfect fit for the businessmen bourgeoisie which was to give them a sense of being a part of the society. The furniture was often small and functional to fit the lifestyle of the emerging business class who lived in small apartments. These smaller pieces are a perfect fit for Parisian society and apartments today thus they are highly sought after. The main of furniture makers in this period was a comfort and new techniques of productions.
The industrial revolution was further accepted by craftsmen which led them to make furniture suits for dining and bedrooms. While the ornamentations where now restrained, the simple rounded lines where stilled adopted from the restoration period. The styles were a mix of the gothic, Renaissance, Louis XIII, and Louis XV periods. Lines became somber and simple. Bedrooms needed to have Armoires. Tables were also laid with marble tops. On top of chests, buffets, armoires, and secretaries we get always to see a slight curvature. For Gueridon tables, had round or oval heads on central support and were very popular. On chair arms and on legs of tables you’ll get to see Palmettes and large leaf foliage. The chairs and settees were made to be massive and solid, while the ‘frog’s leg’ motif is often found on the legs of Louis Philippe settees, pieces and chairs.
Tables and commodes had marble tops while dark wood was preferred. Copper inlays ornaments usually covered keyholes. Marble tops came in either grey. White or black and had molded cyma fore edges. Decorative edges soon reduced due to the frequency of machine produced furniture.
Second Empire (1848-1870):
This period was also known as the Napoleon III Period And Was an Ostentatious and Eclectic Mix of Renaissance, Neoclassical, AND Baroque styles. Louis Napoleon was the nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte. He was elected the president of the second French republic. This happened in 1848. Through a coup d’état in 1951, he was able to re-establish the French empire. He tried to avoid unrest in the country because he was of the Bourbon royal bloodline. However, he ended up like Louis Philippe. He made the French people promises of order, prosperity, la Gloire, and reform. France became truly prosperous under his reign between 1848 and 1870. His government was able to build the Suez Canal, bring about the increase in banking and credit institutions and the building of railroads. He hosted the Exposition Universelle during which the Eiffel tower was constructed. He also started a great public work program in leading cities and the capital Paris. During his reign, there was the introduction of free trade, which though not liked by industrial leaders ended up strengthening the French industry. He transformed Paris into the beauty it is today. At the close of the Franco-Prussian war, Louis had to leave the throne in 1870.
In this period, to get a single piece of furniture, you’ll have to mix several styles. Centre foot tables and nesting tables were introduced at this point. At the beginning of 1850, Papier Mache was used. Ottomans and poufs which were decorated beautifully were fashionable and stylish. Confidantes, Chaises, and indiscreet had tufted and thickly padded upholstery skirts and decorative tassels. They borrowed styles and imagery from far east Africa, native America, and Africa. Bouquets of flowers, Arabesques, birds pagodas and figurines of Asian pieces were also used.
The woods which were mostly associated with luxurious French furniture. However, some were more preferred like tulipwood, walnut, pitch pine, and ebony. Another favorite wood was black lacquer coated wood. Copper, pewter, gilt bronze fittings ivory and mother of pearl inlay and carved gilded wood were also popular. In Settee, Beds, and Gueridon, you would be able to find Caste Iron stands. This period saw the spread of machine-made furniture.
Style Moderne & Art Nouveau (1889-1925)
This period’s style was a response to the industrial revolution and was aimed at modern art and avant-garde style. The movement started in England and in a short while, it spread throughout French cities. The aim of artists who developed this style or movement, was to avoid copying the past, create a new form of art and promote art and design that would apply to most modern everyday lifestyles. The works ranged from sculpting to paintings and architecture, and they were displayed during the Exposition Universelle in Paris, France.
The main entrance to the exposition, the Porte Monumentale, the pavilion Bleu and the Grand Palais .found their themes from the art nouveau theme. Paris became the second city in the world to have an underground transport system. Hector Guimard made the grand entrances to the Paris Metro, and they made the Art Nouveau popular.
The motifs in this period were made with water pants and botanicals in mind. All kinds of tropical vines such as water lily and seaweeds were popular. Other exotic plants like Orchids are more frequent in their appearances early. This is eventually transformed into flowing female hair. Geometric ornaments were not seen. Swans, insects, and peacocks and the female body added to the features of the followers.
Furniture ’s were either made as lavish pieces with expensive materials or were produced in mass for departmental stores in Paris. The techniques and materials were applied. Woods included Brazilian, walnut; pear wood and mahogany were all in vogue including steel, iron and bronze caste.
Art Deco (1925-1935):
The simplification of the nouveau style. Its roots can be traced to the ancient French Ancien regime and its traditions which have passé through time. Their traditions include crafts guild and apprenticeship. France in the 18th century established itself in the forefront of luxury trades, production of porcelain, furniture, metalwork, textiles, and elegant work. All of the periods 18th-century French tradition inspired most beautiful creations. The style capital of the western world becomes Paris. Rather than concentrate on innovation manufacturers focused more on making furniture in massive quantities, unlike the guilds which had been abolished. The richness of its ornament was the most striking thing about it.
The art décor had in it two other styles from different periods. The Louis Philippe period and the Louis XVI period. The chairs were created more like those of the Directoire and the restoration period. Although the fabric was used as cover materials, tan leather was also a good substitute. For seats, they made use of fur, sharkskin’s, and pony skin. The purpose of embroidery and tapestry were no more in vogue, unlike silk. The legs of the chairs were quite thin while the backs were made much lower and were quite open. The tables were made to look light, and were either oval, round, or rectangular. Smaller tables were introduced, e.g., the tea table, the coffee table, and the side tables. The legs had no ornaments. Inspirations included vegetal motifs, maritime motifs, and African art. Curved lines were frequently used.
Costly materials were used mostly because the art décor style was created for the luxury market. The choice was exotic woods as opposed to European woods. Mahogany, ebony, Makassar and lacquered woods were the choicest woods. For ornaments and detail, veneer, copper, gilt bronze, and silver were used. Cast iron was also used. For inlay ornaments and marquetry, ivory was used.