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FURNITURE OF THE FRENCH EMPIRE

HE Empire style marked the last of the great historic epochs in furniture and decoration. It was cold and formal, reflecting the personality of the men so closely identified with its development. The Revolution brought chaos to the industries of France which had so flourished under the old régime. Furniture-makers and metal-workers were thrown out of employment. Many suffered imprisonment or death by the guillotine. With few exceptions the artist-artisans of the Louis XVI period had little part in the handicraft of the Empire. Riesener, escaping the fate of Gouthière and other famous furniture-makers, designed many pieces in the new style, but hfs name lives in his earlier work. The Directory and the Consulate were periods of construction. In the arts the process of rebuilding is slow. David's name is associated with this transition from old forms to the new, and with him must be mentioned Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine. Percier was architect to Napoleon during the Consulate and ranks with Fontaine as a celebrated craftsman of the period. Napoleon was not a patron of the arts, yet no monarch of the old régime had so dominated a style. The letter "N" is stamped over the entire decorative scheme of the Empire. Conquest and victory are spelled in every line.

Designers of Louis XVPs day lauded the classics, but seldom to the extent of the Empire artists and never to the glory of one man. The laurel leaves of the preceding style were rearranged and twisted into a victor's wreath. The fluted column upheld a torch. Roman and Grecian emblems were used lavishly. "Paris was to become a new Athens, Napoleon a Caesar, and France a second Roman Empire." The craze for the antique transformed the dress of the day. Statesmen wore togas and court ladies donned the gowns of Grecian goddesses.

Architects, decorators, and furniture-makers were imbued with the spirit of the hour. The classic lived again and, if somewhat inconsistent, the enthusiasm of the day overlooked all shortcomings.

The chief characteristics of the Empire style were the wreath and torch, the Roman eagle, the Athenian bees, the Greek fret, and the honeysuckle. After the campaign in Egypt the sphinx was added to the medley and became a conspicuous feature in both furniture and decoration. Distinctive qualities of the furniture of the period are few and easily mastered. Constructively the plain column and the claw-foot are the most salient features; decoratively the wreath and torch are most prominent. Marquetry was discarded and plain surfaces were covered with ornamental mounts of chiseled brass and ormolu., Chairs showed a square frame with a plain round leg, ornamented with mounts of characteristic patterns. The chairs in Compiègne, illustrated here, are typical of the style. Although imperial pieces they do not differ from the chairs of a private house. They are enameled white and ornamented with the Greek honeysuckle. The divan on page 160 has the antique outlines so affected by furniture-makers. David painted Madame Récamier on such a couch, the "Grecian attitude" being carefully preserved.

The carving of the Compiègne couch is in the "running laurel pattern." It was hard for craftsmen to get away from the bay leaf. When the surface to be treated was too small for a wreath, the laurel was introduced in the manner shown.

Tables may be divided into two general classes—those with a center column, terminating in a broad base with claw feet, and those of a heavier build, supported by sphinxes. The first type is well known in this country through countless "colonial" adaptations.

Beds during the period of the Empire were stately couches and form striking contrast, to the luxurious beds of the French kings. Napoleon's bedchamber in

Fontainebleau shows the ever-present emblems of conquest which, even in a sleeping apartment, were never absent. The torch, the eagle, and the wreath are all represented.

The work of Percier was marked by great delicacy, but a large portion of the later work of the Empire was clumsy and absurd. Commodes and cabinets lost their real significance and became mere vehicles for the display of grandiose metal-work.

Unlike the Louis XV artisans the Empire furniture-makers lost sight of fitness. " They were too much in earnest to be content, as were the artists of the old régime, with borrowing the antique lines only to playfully transpose them by their own genius with a French grace and elegance, and to thus amalgamate them with the national style. roman ceremonial chair The designers of the Empire were any-

bedroom of napoleon i, fontainebleau

thing but playful in spirit. Their antiquity was to be actual antiquity, drawn purely from the fountain-head and admitting of no admixture. As the pieces of furniture necessary to modern comfort had greatly increased since the days of the ancients, the designers, fearful of the risk of departing from precedents, found themselves in a quandary. Not daring to create they concealed the new constructive lines by an overlay of incongruous accessories. The arm-chair was made to resemble the ancient curule seat

empire chairs and divan, compiegne as far as possible, but when arms were to be added, the best that they could do with them was to turn them into swans' necks, and support them by cupids. The legs of the most harmless tables became bristling griffins. Flaming torches bore the cradle of the sleeping babe, a chair rested upon horns of plenty, the bed became a barge, its peaceful curtains upheld by sheaves of lances. In a word the designers were embarrassed by the self-imposed necessity for torturing the most obvious and simplest forms into symbolic paraphernalia of antiquity. Take the clock for an example. The dial, ordinarily its most salient and characteristic feature, became a mere accessory. It was blushed for as a modern thing and hidden with great ingenuity. It started out of the wheel of an antique chariot in which a warrior rode. It was set into the rock upon which Telemachus reclined. It became the globe which Aspasia carried on her knee."

In its plainer form the Empire style was full of dignity. If it lacked the charm of the graceful Louis XVI style it had, on the other hand, qualities of repose and stability which placed it far above some of its predecessors. One of the most interesting phases was the strong influence which it exerted upon American furniture-making of the early nineteenth century.

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