A PARTICULARLY acute case of suffering from bad company is that of the Direftoire ftyle.
This association will presently be apparent, but the result of it has been that, save to the work of Duncan Phyfe, little attention or appreciation has been accorded the delightful furniture and decoration of the American or English Direftoire Styles. Even the lateSt English books covering these years illustrate but a few pieces of the furniture of Direftoire inspiration, and the renowned Victoria and Albert Museum as yet possesses but a comparatively small selection. MoSt of it remains unknown in private houses, though some passes through the hands of dealers. In America much of the furniture is similarly negledted. It is quite time that we changed all this.
The cause is evident: the French Direttoire Style, upon which the characteristic features of the furniture and decoration of both countries at this period were based, was formerly submerged as merely the beginning of the Empire Style, and so was included in the emphatic and general condemnation meted out to the pomposities of the firSt Napoleon. It was indeed a transition Style, but one that had a powerful effect on the decoration and furniture of all Europe and America. At its appearance it was avidly seized upon, so that we speedily find an Italian, a Spanish, an English, and an American Direfloire derivation, and in each case with the happieSt results.
The term Direftoire is conversationally employed to cover the years from the overthrow of the monarchy of Louis XVI till the establishment of the Empire in
1804, thus including the Revolutionary period, before, and the Consulate after the Directorate but before the Empire.
We muSt recognize two trends in this new French mode. One was the simplification of the beautiful but ornate classic Style of Louis Seize to accord with the ideals of the new Republic—a simplification carried out entirely in accord with French tradition. To these pieces should be added furniture derived, it is true, from classic models, or suggested by them, but handled with the deftness and lightness of the Gallic manner. Together these comprise a very considerable portion of the product of the period, but also leave another considerable portion decidedly to be reckoned with— that composed of heavy and often awkward furniture resulting from the growing mania of copying for modern use anything and everything from antiquity—Egyptian and Etruscan, Greek and Roman—which mania culminated in the grandiose productions of Napoleon's Empire, jarring and clashing with everything hitherto known in France. The firSt trend was almoát wholly fine in its results; those of the laSt were what we may always expeCt from the logical carrying to its conclusion of a thoroughly illogical project.
And so we see that not only has this firát, simplified, historic, and truly Gallic phase suffered from being confused with the Empire Style, but that it was beset with a foe of its own household. Indeed the black sheep of alien tendency was the prolific member of the family, in that it gave birth to the full Empire Style, while the legitimately French mode died "without heirs." And with it died the glory of Gallic mobiliary art.
While, later, we had in America an abundance— yes, a superabundance—of this French Empire influence, and while the Direftoire and Empire Styles—
as have Styles in all times and in all places—merged the one into the other, it so happened that there was a period here in which furniture in all its purity of historic type was made not only in New York by Duncan Phyfe, but in Philadelphia, the South, and New England.
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