1793 - 1804
The Directoire period, or French Directory, extends from between 1793 and 1804 although some dispute the end date.
Directoire furniture reflected the effect of the French Revolution on French furniture design, being a more restrained and simplified version of the earlier Louis XVI style using limited decoration and cheaper materials. Decoration used on directoire furniture was normally a variation on the classically inspired ornamentation of the late 18th century, notably stylised foliage such as the anthemion motif. Marquetry was abandoned in favour of more austere forms of decorative work.
Geometric patterns remained in use but were less extravagant than before, often integrating a Grecian urn into the designs. The caryatid form was also used. And we note the entrance of Egyptian motifs into furniture design. Furniture of the Directoire time sometimes included carvings of sphinxes in the bronze hardware detailing.
The directoire period is often considered to be a transition between Louis XVI and French Empire furniture, and therefore has characteristics of both, with a psychology of its own, and is sometimes called Transitional furniture. The Directoire marks the early beginnings of the Empire style and came about due to various historical circumstances: the luxury of the ruling classes under the Louis; the rebellion of an oppressed people and the Revolution; condemnation and destruction of luxuries and consequent reaction to simple living.
Perier and Fontaine, architects and interior decorators, steeped in the art of early Rome, as unearthed at Pompeii, returned to Paris and were instrumental in directing and satisfying the craving for order, restraint and simple strength. These two artists are responsible for the very beautiful decorative designs known as Directoire, original creations inspired by the classic models.
Architecture and interior decoration were in especially good accord during the Directorate and later First Empire. Directoire rooms and interiors are often what people unconsciously think of when something is called French.
Directoire French Interior.
Directoire French interiors are characterised by painted wallpaper instead of the tapestries of earlier French periods, furniture coverings and curtains of cretonne with classic designs in place of brocades and damasks, or magnificent textiles; simple curtain poles, often arrow shaped, not heavy cornices; painted furniture with straight lines or simple mahogany and chestnut; chair backs showing the graceful backward curve from seat to rolled-over chair top ; slender and curved legs like the silver line of a very new moon, the classic type (with outward curve) seen in ancient Egyptian and Greek frescoes.
Directoire to Empire
The Directoire furniture period is often classed together with the next part of our story, French Empire furniture.