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LOUIS XVI FURNITURE

O Marie Antoinette has long been accorded the honor of the pseudo-classic revival in France. Recent writers on French handicraft of the eighteenth century doubt the young queen's part in the matter, and point out the fact that the return to simpler forms took place several years before the Austrian princess married the dauphin.

The Louis XVI style of decoration was of gradual growth. It is not possible to mark the date when the old standards gave place to the new. It is an extremely interesting development, for in its perfected form it differed as widely from the Louis XV style as did the early Renaissance from the Gothic. Whether the style owed its existence to the influence of Marie Antoinette, or to the discoveries of antique ornament at Pompeii and Herculaneum, or to the natural reaction from an extreme taste to a simpler one, are questions which are not of vital importance to-day. Doubtless many causes were instrumental in giving birth to the Louis XVI school. As the limit of extravagance had been reached any change was necessarily towards plainer models. A return to simplicity in decorative art meant a return to the antique.

In the eighteenth-century Renaissance, Greece, not Rome was the inspiration. Straight lines replaced the flowing scrolls which had so long dominated interior decoration. Horizontal bands superseded the broken and tortured moldings. Irregular panels, painted with cupids and rose garlands, gave way to rectangular spaces ornamented with classic emblems. Furniture-makers discarded curves and adopted severe outlines. The endive and the twisted acanthus disappeared; the laurel and the oak leaf replaced them. To the Greek band was given the prominence previously allotted to the shell. The fluted column was made a constructive part of nearly every piece of furniture. In the chair and the table the supports were fluted, tapering slightly at the base. In the cabinet the column had the character of a pilaster, sometimes tapering, sometimes resting on claw-feet. The oak leaf was seldom used in the decoration of the chair, but in the cabinet, armoirc, console, and bureau, it was made a very ornamental feature. The laurel or the bay leaf was also effectively used and on rare occasions the acanthus, in a severe form, was revived. But to the oak leaf was given chief preference and it is interesting to study its development in small as well as large pieces of furniture. In the decoration of clocks, mirrors, and sconces it was an important and beautiful accessory.

The cabinet from Fontainebleau is an excellent example of the Louis XVI style. The fluted columns have no ornamentation except crossed bands of ribbon. The oak leaf appears in both a natural and conventionalized manner. The metal work is simple and exceedingly good. The gold is of two shades, red-gold in the moldings and green-gold in the mounts. The claw-feet which are in the shape of eagle's talons are very spirited. An unusual effect is gained by the insertion of dark panels which add greatly to the beauty of the design. (See page 126.)

The Louis XV furniture-maker would not have been content to leave the broad center panel undecorated. Marquetry and elaborate mounts would have been necessary adjuncts in his eyes. The charm of flat unadorned spaces was unknown to him. Fontainebleau contains many pieces of furniture designed expressly for Marie Antoinette, and this cabinet is of the number.

Pierre Rousseau planned the apartments of the queen at Fontainebleau and designed the decorations. The boudoir is particularly fine and has been little altered since it was first executed. Everything pertaining to Marie Antoinette is of interest. From the historical point of view there are no apartments in Fontainebleau, Compiègne, Versailles, or the Petit Trianon so worthy of study as those occupied by the ill-fated queen. From the standpoint of interior decoration all the rooms furnished in the Louis XVI style have value. Of the three schools named in honor of the sovereigns Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI, none is so worthy of " reproduction as the style "Louis Seize". It combines grace with simplicity, and, when correctly interpreted, is as suitable in an American home of the twentieth century as it was in a French palace of the eighteenth century.

In the case of the three great French styles the palatial pieces form an important contribution to furniture lore, for with the exception of greater richness of material and more elaborate detail, the furniture of the court closely resembled that of the citizen's house. Thus the collections of Versailles, Fontainebleau, and the Garde-Meuble have more than a royal significance. The Louis XIV style suggests grandeur, the Louis XV elegance, and the Louis XVI grace. Comfort is not lacking in many of the Louis XIV designs but comfort is not their most prominent feature. In the Louis XV pieces there is more luxury and less magnificence. The Louis XVI designs are constructed on severe lines but are perfectly proportioned, and combine both beauty and comfort. The furniture of this period seems made for use, not merely a medium for the display of intricate marquetry and elaborate- metal work. Ornament for ornament's sake is absent although perfection of detail is never lacking___-

Many of the men who achieved fame under Louis XV rendered Louis XVI distinguished service. Riesener, Carlin, Duplessis, Leleu, Gouthière left an impress on both periods. Rousseau, Guibert, Saunier, Röntgen, Benemann, Thomire,

loujs xvi bedstead, fontainebleau and Oeben, the younger,were more closely identified with the Louis XVI style. Much of Riesener's later work was executed for Marie Antoinette and is marked by the same exquisite finish that made his furniture famous during the reign of Louis XV. In the catalogue of the Hamilton collection which was sold at auction in 1882, are listed many of these royal designs. "No. 301. Upright Secretaire, signed 'Riesener 1790/ Branded with the cipher of Marie Antoinette on the back, £4,620. No. 302. A commode en suite signed 'Riesener 1790/ £4,305. No. 303. An oblong writing-table, stamped 'J. Riesener/ and branded underneath with the cipher of Marie Antoinette."

In a footnote in the catalogue it is stated that " the commode and the secrétaire were among the last works of Riesener and that they were executed for the palace of St. Cloud, where the queen resided during the summer of 1790."

David Röntgen, usually called "David" in French furniture annals, was a remarkable designer. He was a member of the Paris guild of cabinet-makers, but executed most of his furniture in his studio at Neuwied. Röntgen owed his reputation not only to the excellence of his work, but to his unique methods of conducting his sales. From his headquarters in Neuwied he made journeys to the various courts of Europe. Among his royal patrons were Marie Antoinette, Frederick of Prussia, and Catherine of Russia.

Combined with beauty of execution were many contrivances which rendered his work remarkable. Secret drawers and hidden locks were made a feature of his desks and cabinets, and earned for him the title of ébéniste mécanicien. His mechanical ingenuity was often turned to account when important sales were pending.

Lady Dilke describes one of his transactions with Catherine of Russia. Röntgen had arrived in St. Petersburg with a notable collection of furniture :"The empress

louis xvi cabinet, fontainebleau

was ready to admire and wonder, but could not be persuaded to buy, her funds just then being exhausted by the war with the Turks. In the night preceding the visit which she had promised to pay to Röntgen's exhibition, arrived the news of a naval victory won by the Russians at Tchesme, and when she was received on the following day at the place appointed, matters were so arranged that her eyes should fall at once on an imposing secretaire, which was surmounted by a clock bearing a Genius, whose graver indicated the date of the successful naval engagement, which Röntgen had contrived to add that morning. Catherine could do no less in acknowledgment of the courtly compliment than buy, the whole collection."

To such a point did Röntgen carry his mechanical skill and so closely associated with his name were all kinds of mechanical devices, that for years every writing-desk with a secret drawer, every cabinet with a hidden spring, has been attributed to him. Lady Dilke, who has made a careful study of the eighteenth-century furniture-makers, cites several pieces in the Kensington Museum which have been incorrectly credited to Röntgen. In speaking of a "bureau-toilette" in the Jones collection at Kensington, she says: "A curious feature of this bureau marks the treatment of the cover, which falls and presents to the hand a myriad little receptacles for paint and powder and other 'make-up7 requisites. This inge- louis xvi clock nious contrivance and the light color of the inlay have been responsible for the legend which declares it to have been ordered of David Röntgen by his patroness, Queen Marie Antoinette, a story that has not the slightest foundation. At one time the name of David seems to have been applied indiscriminately to all work inlaid with light woods, when the interior contrivances presented more or less ingenious character. This is the only explanation of the attribution of Röntgen, not only of the 'bureau-toilette/ but of the

H noble cabinet at Hertford House, both undoubtedly by Saunier

The "bureau-toilette" is late Louis XV style and is of tulipwood inlaid with flowers and trophies. The mounts are of ormolu, exquisitely chiseled. Within are numerous pigeon-holes for letters and many little receptacles for p'aint and powder, showing that her majesty practiced the delicate art of make-up in common with the women of her day.

Claude-Charles Saunier, Martin Carlin, Jean Pafrat, writing-desk and bureau-toilette belonging to Jean François Leleu, are marie Antoinette, late xv style represented in many of the large English collections.

From various catalogues the following items are gleaned:

Hertford House—"Mahogany cabinet with Sèvres panels, designed by Carlin, mounts by Thomire. Table of amboyna wood; fluted columns, designed by Leleu, mounts attributed to Gouthière. Table of wood and gilt, metal porphyry slab, mounts by Gouthière. Corner cupboard of mahogany, marquetry by Riesener, mounts by Thomire. Cabinet of amboyna wood and ormolu, by Riesener, mounts by Thomire. Chairs of carved and gilt wood, coverings of Beauvais tapestry. Corner cupboard, designed by Saunier."

South Kensington Museum—-"Work-table, tulipwood and ormolu, by Carlin and Pafrat. Corner cupboard, marquetry, by Oeben. Commode, marquetry, by Riesener."

Windsor Castle—"Sideboard in mahogany and ormolu, with Sèvres panels, by Martin Carlin. Mahogany cabinet with bronze mounts, bearing the arms of France and Savoy. Secrétaire of tulipwood with bronze mounts, by Rôntgen."

These items, brief as they are, indicate the trend of the Louis XVI style, so far as the choice of woods and metals are concerned. They also show the importance given to the maker's name. . French designers of the eighteenth century signed their work precisely as the painters signed their canvases, and who shall say that they were lesser artists?

Mahogany had been growing in popularity since the middle of the century, and walnut which had so long been the chief medium of French furniture-makers, had gradually lost favor. Walnut was not discarded, but it was more often gilded and enameled than used in its natural state. For chairs and couches, and for all pieces where upholstery was utilized, walnut was the usual foundation. The enameling to which the wood was treated was in soft colors and exceedingly durable. Many of the Louis XVI chairs, sofas, and bedsteads show this delicate finish which today exhibits little trace of wear. The gilded furniture belongs to another class, although the designs are often similar. Many of the glided chairs are combined with cane. Sometimes the natural cane is set in a gilded frame, and again the cane is gilded and the wood enameled. Another style combines cane with natural walnut which is most attractive of all. Modern furniture-makers have lately revived this fashion. With a consistent setting these cane pieces are exceedingly effective.

Marie Antoinette, in furnishing the Petit Trianon made a most effective use of cane. It suited the simplicity which she delighted to affect when she retired to the Trianon. The queen, brought up in the Austrian court which was less formal than that of France, spent her happiest hours in the picturesque building which Louis XV erected for the duchess du Barry. Here she could escape the etiquette of the court and live as independently as she pleased, even playing dairy-maid when the whim seized her. The English garden, the poultry-house, the mill, the grotto, and the dairy are still in existence, and are scarcely less interesting than the Little Trianon itself.

Gabriel, the royal architect, built the main edifice which bears somewhat the same relation architecturally to the Grand Trianon that the Grand Trianon does to Versailles. "The Petit Trianon is rather a handsome country house than a palace," says a writer of the period. Its walls are ornamented with sculptural festoons of oak leaves, and the balustrade is of gilt bronze in designs of lyres and quivers, horns of plenty and the inter- louis xvi chair, petit trianon

laced letters M. A. The antechamber has a Greek portal, and within is paneled in a severe but elegant style with a cornice of palmettes and painted rectangular panels over the doors. The dining-room opens immediately from it. The" ornaments on the panels, trophies of quivers and crowns, were placed there by the order of the queen. The main salon is furnished in crimson and gold. The boudoir is charming, with its simple but beautifully wrought moldings, its panels relieved by delicately modeled arabesques, and its simple mantel garniture of two Sèvres , vases and branches for candles in gilt bronze."

The rooms described may -be taken as typiçàl of the Louis XVI period. They did not surpass the furnishings of many private houses. Paneled woodwork ornamented with arabesques and trophies formed the usual decoration of side walls. Tfie furniture of the main salon consisted of six straight-back chairs, two armchairs, a bergère, or chair with upholstered sides, two sofas, and several tables.

In studying Louis XVI chairs two general types are observed: one is composed entirely of angles; the other makes a partial use of the oval. The arm-chair on * page 129 is a fine illustration of the first class. The chair reproduced on this page belongs to the second. The fluted support is shown in both types and this feature, it may be- added, is the most marked characteristic of Louis XVI furniture.

louis xvi chair, petit trianon.

louis xvi chair, petit trianon.

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