Furniture Styles

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Louis XV Furniture, French Rococo

Louis XV, 1723 - 1774

By the time of Louis XV's reign the rather overbearing and studiously ornate Baroque furniture type of Louis XIV gradually fell out of favour, particularly between 1720 and 1730, and was replaced by what is called the rococo. This time is viewed by many as the highest point in French furniture design and has undergone numerous revivals over the subsequent centuries. Mid 18th century furniture in France is renowned for the most fine craftsmanship and attention to detail.

French Rococo

The major characteristics, in abstract terms, of the rococo style, sometimes called Louis XV or Louis Quinze, are lightness, assymetry, elegance, and the most exquisitely minute and careful decorative accents. In more practical terms French rococo furniture sees great use of interlacing shell decoration, plant and flower motifs, C scrolls and S scrolls. The cabriole leg and scroll foot were refined and used a great deal.

Louis XV Console Table
Louis XV Console Table.

Influences on Rococo

Middle Class Homes

The middle of the eighteenth century in France saw increasing wealth among the middle classes and thus to the building of many more beautiful and elaborate homes, each with their own varied needs for furnishing, and each with their own houseproud masters wanting to show off their sophistication and riches.

Madame de Pompadour

One important ingredient in the story of Louis XV furniture is the role of Madame de Pompadour, a mistress of King Louis, who had her own apartment at the palace of Versailles, and encouraged Louis to promote the fine arts of architecture, furniture, and furnishings.

In 1753, at Madame de Pompadour's urging, the king took control of the Vincennes porcelain factory, later moved to Sevres, which became a significant producer of painted plaques or porcelain slabs used on tabletops and other Louis XV furniture.

Social Customs

The salon, social gathering, whether in palaces or ordinary homes, developed into a common occurence. There was far more concern with convenience and comfort which saw the making of smaller armchairs, sofas, and portable tables. Very large numbers of new furniture types came into being with new emphasis on the need to match consoles, tables, chairs, sofas, lounges, footstools, stools, and mirrors with each other.

Louis XV Salon
Louis XV Salon.

Rococo Furniture Makers

French cabinetmaking of the Louis XV period continued to be dominated by the master craftsmen of Paris. Guilds of craftsmen maintained strict divisions of labour between the various arms of furniture design and making. "Menuisiers", or cabinet makers or furniture joiners, were allocated all work that used wood including cupboards, tables, beds and other items. Carving, however, was not to be done by menuisiers except for simple ornament of their own design, very decorative and extensive carving being the preserve of the sculptors's guild. Ordinary furniture makers could attach ormolu decoration but were not allowed to make the ormolu itself.

French Rococo Style Armchair
French Rococo Style Armchair, 1750.

Master craftsmen, called "ebenistes", made chairs, sofas, and some case furniture similar to that made by the menuisiers. Louis XV furniture produced by the ebenistes was rich in veneer, elaborate marquetry, and quite ingenious and complex mechanisms such as drawers with fall fronts and secret compartments which could be revealed by touching a button. Upholsterers as well made their contribution to French rococo furniture.

For collectors of antiques of the Louis XV era it is helpful to note that members of the Parisian guilds were required to stamp or sign their names on pieces of furniture made between 1743 and 1790.

End of Rococo Design

Our friend, Madame de Pompadour, played her part in the eventual decline in popularity of the exuberant and extremely decorative rococo style when she, like many others of the mid to late eighteenth century, took up a scholarly interest in the remains and artifacts of the dead civilisations of Rome and Greece, this ushering in the time of neo classical furniture.

Commode, 1774.
Marquetry of tulipwood, kingwood and other woods, on an oak carcase, with gilt-bronze mounts and a red griotte marble slab.
The commode's curved legs and outline, combined with the geometric pattering of the marquetry (shaped decorative pieces of wood applied as a veneer) and classically inspired gilt-bronze mounts, reflect the transitional phase that divides the elegant and highly decorative Rococo manner from the anti Rococo, more sober Neo-classical style that followed it.

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