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LOUIS XIV FURNITURE

HE three styles known respectively as Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis

XVI, form important chapter in the history of furniture-making. The

Louis XIV was characterized by bold effects, lavish, but not excessive, decoration, and faultless execution. Dignity and a certain massive grandeur marked the work of the best "Quatorze" furniture. The Louis XV was the culmination of the rococo school when balance and proportion were considered less important than beauty of detail. The Louis XVI was a return to simpler designs and a more restrained type of ornament. This reaction was partly due to the influence of Marie Antoinette, partly to the newly awakened interest in classic forms, prqmpted by the discoveries at Pompeii, and partly to the inevitable swinging of the pendulum—from an extreme taste to a simpler one.

Louis XIV reigned seventy-two years, and during that time fashions in costumes and in furniture changed rapidly. There were, however, certain qualities that stamped the handicraft of the period and which rendered it distinctive. Under Louis XIV all'the industries of France prospered. This was in a great measure the result of Colbert's able administration. It was Colbert who suggested to the king the wisdom of purchasing the Gobelin manufactory and of placing Lebrun at the head of it as art director; Colbert who organized the lace industries in the provinces, thus turning into French coffers the vast sums that had been previously expended on Italian and Flemish laces; Colbert who founded the Academy of Painters and Sculptors—an association which numbered in its ranks masters of all arts. Thus painters, sculptors, architects, designers, decorators, engravers, and wood-carvers were banded together, working under a common impulse. The academy first occupied an apartment in the Louvre, but later centralized its efforts at the Gobelin factory where, under the direction of Lebrun, royal orders were executed. Here the Louis XIV style was perfected. Previous to this date, 1667, the standards of the preceding reign had influenced design.

Louis was five years of age when his father, Louis XIII, died. During his minority the queen regent and Cardinal Mazarin practically ruled. Anne was a woman of luxurious tastes, and did much to foster the increasing desire at court for costly surroundings. In this she was ably assisted by Mazarin whose love for richly decorated rooms and sumptuous furniture drew heavily on the national exchequer. The regency was brief, for Louis, according to the laws of France, reached his majority at the age of thirteen, but during that period he had learned a lesson in extravagance that was destined to bear fruit at Versailles

It was not until the death of Mazarin that the young king displayed the qualities of leadership which made him the central figure in Europe. No previous monarch of France had so dominated other nations. His marriage with Marie Theresa, daughter of Philip IV, gave him a hold on Spain and Austria; his invasion of Franche-Comté, a footing in Flanders; his conquest of several Dutch provinces, a grasp on Holland; his purchase of Dunkirk from Charles II, a loophole in England. All these interests had an influence on the arts of the day. Spanish, Dutch, Italian, and Scotch craftsmen were invited to compete with French artisans. It was the desire of Colbert to limit foreign importations, and to this end he established many native industries. Under his administration visiting designers were encouraged to stay until the secrets of their work had been acquired. They were then politely dispatched to their chair in Versailles, regency of Anne of austria own country laden with honors, and sometimes pensioned. When the palace of Versailles was decorated and furnished, few foreigners had a part in the work. It was a triumph of French taste and skill, and as such it remains to-day.

Louis XIII had erected a hunting-lodge at Versailles and later remodeled it into a château. On this site, and keeping intact the older building, the present palace was built. The architect was Jules Hardouin Mansart and the landscape-

gardener André Le Nôtre. The greatest artists of the day were employed in decorating the interior and the greatest designers in planning the furnishings. The finest products of the silk and tapestry looms of France were utilized for the hangings. The rarest woods of the world were selected for the furniture. Craftsmen of the kingdom vied with each other in perfecting their art so that the palace of Le Grand Monarque should stand unrivaled.

Madame de Sévigné who penned so many graphic pictures of court life, wrote, in 1676, to her daughter: "Let me inform you, my child, of a change of scene which will appear to you as agreeable as it does to every one. I went to Versailles on Saturday. This is how things are disposed. You are acquainted with the toilette of the queen, the mass, the dinner; but it is no longer necessary to be bored while their majesties are at table, for at three o'clock, the king, the queen, all the princes and the princesses there are, Madame de Montespan and all her suite, all the courtiers, all the ladies, in a word, what is called the court of France, find themselves in that fine apartment of the king that you know. All is furnished divinely; all is magnificent."

We may regret that Madame's daughter was familiar with the "apart- louis xiv clock ment of the king," for otherwise a spirited description would have followed. The writer describes the music and games with which the court is entertained:

"That agreeable confusion without confusion of all that is most select lasts from three to six. At that hour their majesties enter their carriages. Some go in gondolas on the canal, where there is music. At ten o'clock all return, when a comedy is performed; midnight strikes and then all is over."

The apartment to which Madame de Sévigné referred was undoubtedly the Salon de la Guerre, mentioned by Mrs. Kingsley in her fine description of the palace.

"Nowhere," she says, "has interior decoration been carried to a further point

of perfection than in Versailles where we are offered the most splendid examples possible of the Louis XIV style. It may be all wrong in the eyes of architectural purists, but for sheer magnificence of effect, for actual richness of detail in marble and painting, in gilded stucco, carved wood, superb gilt-bronze, it cannot be surpassed. Take, for example, the Salon de Mars. The modillions of the grand golden cornice are empty casques. And in the covings of the ceiling are golden trophies and cupids in gilt stucco riding eagles and taming wolves. Golden wreaths frame the paintings of the ceiling by Audran, depicting Mars in his chariot. Or, again, the Salon d'Apollon, with its ceiling by Lafosse. and its winged muses of extreme beauty, on which the great sculptor Coy-sevox did not refuse to work. But all this glory of decorative art culminates in the Grand Galerie and the Salon de la Guerre. Here decoration with one object ever in view, the glorification of the king, can scarcely be carried further. The coved roof represents in thirty subjects the history of the Grand Monarque, painted under the direction of Lebrun, from his most carefully prepared designs. Boileau and Racine composed the inscriptions for each of these subjects, which are set in carved and gilded sculpture of indescribable richness and variety. The great trophies of gilt-bronze upon magnificent colored marbles and the twenty-four groups in gilded stucco are due to Coysevox. The capitals of the pilasters, the frames of the Venetian mirrors, all the details of ornament, are by the first artists of the day. In the Salon de la Guerre, in Coysevox's immortal bas-relief, the king, young, radiant, triumphant, tramples nations in chains under his horse's feet. When we add to the

bureau, late louis xiv decorations that have survived war and revolution all that have been lost, the statues, carved cabinets above all, the famous silver mobilier made at the Gobelin's to adorn the gallery, we get an idea of splendoralmost unequaled. Most of the treasures are dispersed or destroyed. The silver furniture was sent to the mint in 1690 to defray the expenses of the war against the League of Augsburg."

In contrast with these regal apartments which show the grandiose side of the Louis XIV style is the room decorated and furnished for Madame de Maintenon, in Fontaineblcau. Here the simple phase is illustrated. Barring certain details in the decorations, such as the "L" and the crown, this room is doubtless a prototype of the salon in many private houses. The plain panels, the simple mantel, and the substantial chairs are far more valuable from the decorative standpoint than the gilded grandeur of the Salon de la Guerre.

In France the distinction between the salon de compagnie and the salon de jamille has always been emphasized. It is unfortunate that modern decorators in treating a room in Louis XIV or Louis XV style neglect the simple aspect of the style, which, with the exception of state apartments and ball-rooms, is the only side suitable for reproduction in an American home. The gorgeous rooms in Versailles are chosen as models, rather than the plainer apartments in Fontainebleau or the Trianons.

Many pieces of furniture belonging to palace and to private house were destroyed at the time of the Revolution, but enough remain to show the trend of the Louis XIV period. • The Renaissance raised furniture-making to the dignity of an art, but it was not until the reign of Louis XIV that furniture-makers individually ranked as artists. Some of the cabinet-makers of that day were as renowned as the painters, and one at least made a name for himself that has outlived the fame of many of his brothers of the brush. This man was André Charles Boulle. In 1672 he became ébéniste to the king and was granted quarters in the Louvre. The royal patent conferred upon him the title of "Engraver in Ordinary of the Royal Seals," and also designated him as "architect, painter, carver in mosaic, artist in cabinet-work, chaser, inlayer, and designer."

Boulle. was a man of many talents, but his fame rests chiefly on a unique marquetry of tortoise shell and brass with which he ornamented his furniture. He was not the inventor of the process, but he carried it to such a point of excellence that the name of the originator has been overlooked. Doubtless some chest or casket of oriental workmanship suggested to French cabinet-makers this form of decoration. Royal inventories of the late fourteenth century mention Damascus caskets of shell overlaid with silver. Joan, first wife of Louis XII, numbered among her dower chests one of ivory and horn inlaid with copper. Boulle's handiwork was quite unlike oriental marquetry in point of execution, but it bore a slight resemblance to it in general effect. His method was to cover the piece of furniture to be decorated with a veneer of shell, over which brass cuttings were fastened. Small brass nails secured the metal to the shell background and these were deftly engraved to form part of the design. Shells, scrolls, acanthus foliage, and other characteristic bits of ornament were represented in the brass. Metal mounts and moldings were a feature of the work. Masks, satyrs, and cupids were some of the designs used as garnitures. The ram's head was a favorite with Boulle, and may be found on many of his pieces. These mounts were usually of ormolu, a composition of gold, mercury and copper which was applied to the brass to give it the appearance of gold. Sometimes the process of veneer was reversed and upon a brass foundation shell was appliqued. When the shell was overlaid with brass, it was called "first part," or "boulle," and when the brass formed the background, with shell ornamentation, it was termed "second part" or "counter." When both were combined in the same piece of furniture it was "boulle and

an example of simple louis xiv furniture, madame de maixtexox's room, foxtainebleau

counter." Other terms were "new boulle" and "old boulle." The former referred to the practice of placing color beneath the shell. Brilliant effects were obtained by lining the shell with scarlet or gold-leaf. This combination was the work of Andre's imitators, and found little favor with the master himself. Boulle's own handicraft was marked by a refinement which his followers were unable to copy. Many of Boulle's designs were furnished by Lebrun and executed under his supervision.

The console in the Louvre, illustrated on page 102, is an example of his early work. It combines "boulle" and "counter," and is a representative piece. It also shows the massive type of furniture in vogue during the early Louis XIV period. The console depends entirely on the marquetry and metal mounts for interest; the outline is heavy to the verge of cumbersome. The supports are of the pedestal order and are a survival of the preceding reign. The pedestal support is important as indicating the date of the piece.

Later furniture shows a curving leg, still massive, but more graceful. The supports of the early eighteenth century are more slender, and approximate the Louis XV style. The two extremes may be studied in the console mentioned and in the bureau on page 103.

The chair reproduced belongs to the early Louis XIV period. It was made during the regency of Anne of Austria, and has the heavy supports of the Louis XIII period. The acanthus leaf is the chief motive in the decoration, as it is in most of the chairs of that day. The leaf is well modeled and is in low relief, a marked contrast to its later development when endless foliations replaced the severer handling. Beauvais tapestry forms the upholstery and fringe in corresponding colors adds a finish to the seat and back.

Later chairs show a bolder treatment of the acanthus and a more ornate frame. The pedestal supports are still in evidence, but the lines have changed somewhat. The arms have a deeper curve and have lost something in beauty. It is a point worthy of notice that the arms of the Renaissance chairs were quite straight, and that the curve was of gradual growth. Chair legs in France remained straight until late in the seventeenth century when the general tendency towards flowing lines, altered the supports of chairs, tables, and cabinets. During the last fifteen years of Louis XIV's reign (1700-1715) every article of furniture, except the bed, conformed to rococo outlines. Rococo ornament had long held sway, but shapes as a whole had been severe.

The bed had undergone several changes. The lower posts were discarded and the canopy was suspended from the cornice. The bed in the king's chamber at Versailles shows to what an extent the decoration of this article of furniture could be carried. The headboard of this royal structure is carved in the best manner

headboard, louis xiv bedstead, versailles

of the period. The mask with radiations, surrounded by the laurel wreath, the acanthus scrolls, and the shell are all characteristic. The mask represented the sun and the radiations the beams. This was a compliment to his majesty whose power was without limit. The hangings of the bed are of Gobelin tapestry and Lyons velvet.

Ebony, oak, walnut, and chestnut were the woods most in favor with furniture-makers. Rare woods, like sandal and tulip, were used as panels to give color and variety. When to this combination onyx, porphyry, and lapis lazuli were added, the whole ornamented with ormolu frames and mounts, only a prophet in furniture could have predicted that a succeeding style would carry decoration a point further.

The Louis XIV style was suited to the monarch who delighted in being called le grand and who desired to be painted in the character of Jove hurling thunderbolts at trembling Europe. It was fitted for palaces but, save in its plainest aspect, was little suited for the homes of those born outside the purple.

That elaborate furniture was not confined to the court may be gathered from letters and inventories of the celebrated cabinet-makers of the day. Boulle made many pieces for the wealthy citizens of Paris, particularly in the later years of his life when the king's fancy had turned to the work of younger men. Boulle lived to be ninety years of age, surviving his royal patron more than a decade. The list of cabinets, consoles and armoires designed by him is a long one. Much of his work, like that of his contemporaries, was destroyed at the time of the Revolution.

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