Jul 12, 2008

The Antique French Louis XV chair (1723-1774)

To the existing range of seating, from stool to couch, were added forms intended for more and more specific uses, such as the «chauffeuse», a low armless chair which allowed ladies to do their needlework in comfort, or the cabriolet antique French Louis XV chair (or armchair) with a seat shaped in a semi-circle behind, matching the incurving back which offered better support to the sitter. The bergère, which took various forms (such as the roomy « marquise » and the version equipped with an arm-rest on which another person might lean), became the perfect drawing-room chair. The observer’s chair or «voyelle de femme» was a Louis XV chair with an arm-rest on the upper part of the back on which one could sit astride, and was ideal for card-games.

The studios produced many types of multiple seating to facilitate conversation, such as the couch (armless and resembling an easy-chair), the cushioned sofa with padded side-pieces like those on a bergère, the ottoman or padded couch, gondola-shaped and of Turkish origin, or the famous confidante’s couch, comprising two corner-chairs at its ends, separated by arms. There were many lounging-chairs: the « duchesse », which was a type of chaise longue, the day-bed with its side-pieces of different heights, and the Turkish couch or « sultane », a kind of backless bench with two scrolled ends of equal height, which was placed against a wall.

Towards the end of Louis XV’s reign, wood was carved into irregular shapes and heavily sculpted. Lines were serpentine. Fiddle-backs were scooped at the base, leaving a space between the elements. Consoles and arm-rests became less prominent and finally vanished. Panniered gowns were in fashion and ladies needed to be able to sit down easily in them.

Richer antique furniture models were carved with flowers (especially roses), open pomegranates, acanthus leaves and seashells ornamented with foliage, linked together by curlicues or irregular, rock-like formations.

The front legs were carved in elongated curves terminating in scrolling, mouldings or acanthus leaves.The rear legs had cambered ends. The front edge had moul-dings. The seat was light and elegant, with the rear edge forming a semi-circle when viewed from above. Backs began to change shape, curving inwards to follow the shape of the seat. Chairs or armchairs with backs which enfolded the sitter were said to be «en cabriolet Armchair». Arms became smaller and smaller. Stretcher-bars disappeared.

An important development was the invention of chairs with portable frames, which permitted a change of décor accor-ding to season or for particular occasions. A wider variety of woods came into use. Most of these chairs were painted, so that there was no point in using any special type of wood. They were highly- polished. Chairs were embellished with carving, sometimes picked out in gold leaf, like those of royalty. Upholstery was more voluminous. Cane-bottomed chairs had pierced squares in place of cushions. Cushions were stuffed with feathers or with down. The mechanics of construction were carefully disguised and the finish was becoming perfect.

Italian baroque style chair and Oriental art had their influence on France, as did the Chinese and Turkish styles. Fabrics were dyed in the Oriental fashion (as re-presented by the East India Company) and decorated with birds (whose reputation for bringing bad luck resulted in their being eventually banished). Most of the fabrics were silk, since the import of Indian fabrics was forbidden in France. Besides the fabrics already in use, Utrecht velvet made its appearance, as did Beauvais and Gobelin tapestries showing pastoral scenes, bouquets of flowers or amoretti. Braid and decorative studding provided the finishing touches. Around 1750, a royal decree made it compulsory for furniture to be stamped with a maker’s mark and the hallmark of the guild of joiners and cabinet-makers.



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