Lucy Abbot Throop.

Furnishing the Home of Good Taste A Brief Sketch of the Period Styles in Interior Decoration with Suggestions as to Their Employment in the Homes of Today online

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king, who could do no wrong, and the dazzling, care-free people who
played their brilliant, selfish parts in the midst of its splendor. They
never gave a thought to the great mass of the common people who were
over-burdened with taxation; they never heard the first faint mutterings
of discontent which were to grow, ever louder and louder, until the
blood and horror of the Revolution paid the debt.

_The Regency and Louis XV_

When Louis XIV died in 1715, his great-grandson, Louis XV, was but five
years old, so Philippe, Duc d'Orleans, became Regent. During the last
years of Louis XIV's life the court had resented more or less the gloom
cast over it by the influence of Madame de Maintenon, and turned with
avidity to the new ruler. He was a vain and selfish man, feeling none of
the responsibilities of his position, and living chiefly for pleasure.
The change in decoration had been foreshadowed in the closing years of
the previous reign, and it is often hard to say whether a piece of
furniture is late Louis XIV or Regency.

The new gained rapidly over the old, and the magnificent and stately
extravagance of Louis XIV turned into the daintier but no less
extravagant and rich decoration of the Regency and Louis XV. One of the
noticeable changes was that rooms were smaller, and the reign of the
boudoir began. It has been truly said that after the death of Louis XIV
"came the substitution of the finery of coquetry for the worship of the
great in style." There was greater variety in the designs of furniture
and a greater use of carved metal ornament and gilt bronze, beautifully
chased. The ornaments took many shapes, such as shells, shaped foliage,
roses, seaweed, strings of pearls, etc., and at its best there was
great beauty in the treatment.

It was during the Regency that the great artist and sculptor in metal,
Charles Cressant, flourished. He was made _ébeniste_ of the Regent, and
his influence was always to keep up the traditions when the reaction
against the severe might easily have led to degeneration. There are
beautiful examples of his work in many of the great collections of
furniture, notably the wonderful commode in the Wallace collection. The
dragon mounts of ormolu on it show the strong influence the Orient had
at the time. He often used the figures of women with great delicacy on
the corners of his furniture, and he also used tortoise-shell and many
colored woods in marquetry, but his most wonderful work was done in
brass and gilded bronze.

In 1723, when Louis was thirteen years old, he was declared of age and
became king. The influence of the Regent was, naturally, still strong,
and unfortunately did much to form the character of the young king.
Selfishness, pleasure, and low ideals, were the order of court life, and
paved the way for the debased taste for rococo ornament which was one
marked phase of the style of Louis XV.

The great influence of the Orient at this time is very noticeable. There
had been a beginning of it in the previous reign, but during the Regency
and the reign of Louis XV it became very marked. "_Singerie_" and
"_Chinoiserie_" were the rage, and gay little monkeys clambered and
climbed over walls and furniture with a careless abandon that had a
certain fascination and charm in spite of their being monkeys. The
"_Salon des Singes_" in the Chateau de Chantilly gives one a good idea
of this. The style was easily overdone and did not last a great while.

During this time of Oriental influence lacquer was much used and
beautiful lacquer panels became one of the great features of French
furniture. Pieces of furniture were sent to China and Japan to be
lacquered and this, combined with the expense of importing it, led many
men in France to try to find out the Oriental secret. Le Sieur Dagly was
supposed to have imported the secret and was established at the Gobelins
works where he made what was called "_vernis de Gobelins_."

The Martin family evolved a most characteristically French style of
decoration from the Chinese and Japanese lacquers. The varnish they
made, called "_vernis Martin_," gave its name to the furniture decorated
by them, which was well suited to the dainty boudoirs of the day. All
kinds of furniture were decorated in this way - sedan chairs and even
snuff-boxes, until at last the supply became so great that the fashion
died. There are many charming examples of it to be seen in museums and
private collections, but the modern garish copies of it in many shops
give no idea of the charm of the original. Watteau's delightful
decorations also give the true spirit of the time, with their gayety
and frivolity showing the Arcadian affectations - the fad of the moment.

As the time passed decoration grew more and more ornate, and the
followers of Cressant exaggerated his traits. One of these was Jules
Aurèle Meissonier, an Italian by birth, who brought with him to France
the decadent Italian taste. He had a most marvelous power of invention
and lavished ornament on everything, carrying the rocaille style to its
utmost limit. He broke up all straight lines, put curves and
convolutions everywhere, and rarely had two sides alike, for symmetry
had no charms for him. The curved endive decoration was used in
architraves, in the panels of overdoors and panel moldings, everywhere
it possibly could be used, in fact. His work was in great demand by the
king and nobility. He designed furniture of all kinds, altars, sledges,
candelabra and a great amount of silversmith's work, and also published
a book of designs. Unfortunately it is this rococo style which is meant
by many people when they speak of the style of Louis XV.

Louis XV furniture and decoration at its best period is extremely
beautiful, and the foremost architects of the day were undisturbed by
the demand for rococo, knowing it was a vulgarism of taste which would
pass. In France, bad as it was, it never went to such lengths as it did
in Italy and Spain.

[Illustration: The mantel with its great glass reaching to the cornice,
the wall panels, paintings over the doors, and beautiful furniture, all
show the spirit of the best Louis XV period. The fur rug is an
anachronism and detracts from the effect of the room.]

[Illustration: The rare console tables and chairs and the Gobelin
tapestry, "Games of Children," show to great advantage in this
beautifully proportioned room of soft dull gold. The side-and
centre-lights, reflected in the mirror, light the room correctly.]

The easy generalization of the girl who said the difference between the
styles of Louis XV and Louis XVI was like the difference in hair, one
was curly and one was straight, has more than a grain of truth in it.
The curved line was used persistently until the last years of Louis XV's
time, but it was a beautiful, gracious curve, elaborate, and in
furniture, richly carved, which was used during the best period. The
decline came when good taste was lost in the craze for rococo.

Chairs were carved and gilded, or painted, or lacquered, and also
beautiful natural woods were used. The sofas and chairs had a general
square appearance, but the framework was much curved and carved and
gilded. They were upholstered in silks, brocades, velvets, damasks in
flowered designs, edged with braid. Gobelin, Aubusson and Beauvais
tapestry, with Watteau designs, were also used. Nothing more dainty or
charming could be found than the tapestry seats and chair backs and
screens which were woven especially to fit certain pieces of furniture.
The tapestry weavers now used thousands of colors in place of the
nineteen used in the early days, and this enabled them to copy with
great exactness the charming pictures of Watteau and Boucher. The idea
of sitting on beautiful ladies and gentlemen airily playing at country
life, does not appeal to our modern taste, but it seems to be in accord
with those days.

Desks were much used and were conveniently arranged with drawers,
pigeon-holes and shelves, and roll-top desks were made at this time.
Commodes were painted, or richly ornamented with lacquer panels, or
panels of rosewood or violet wood, and all were embellished with
wonderful bronze or ormolu. Many pieces of furniture were inlaid with
lovely Sèvres plaques, a manner which is not always pleasing in effect.
There were many different and elaborate kinds of beds, taking their
names from their form and draping. "_Lit d'anglaise_" had a back,
head-board and foot-board, and could be used as a sofa. "_Lit a
Romaine_" had a canopy and four festooned curtains, and so on.

The most common form of salon was rectangular, with proportions of 4 to
3, or 2 to 1. There were also many square, round, octagonal and oval
salons, these last being among the most beautiful. They all were
decorated with great richness, the walls being paneled with carved and
gilded - or partially gilded - wood. Tapestry and brocade and painted
panels were used. Large mirrors with elaborate frames were placed over
the mantels, with panels above reaching to the cornice or cove of the
ceiling, and large mirrors were also used over console tables and as
panels. The paneled overdoors reached to the cornice, and windows were
also treated in this way. Windows and doors were not looked upon merely
as openings to admit air and light and human beings, but formed a part
of the scheme of decoration of the room. There were beautiful brackets
and candelabra of ormolu to light the rooms, and the boudoirs and
salons, with their white and gold and beautifully decorated walls and
gilded furniture, gave an air of gayety and richness, extravagance and

An apartment in the time of Louis XV usually had a vestibule, rather
severely decorated with columns or pilasters and often statues in
niches. The first ante-room was a waiting-room for servants and was
plainly treated, the woodwork being the chief decoration. The second
ante-room had mirrors, console tables, carved and gilded woodwork, and
sometimes tapestry was used above a wainscot. Dining-rooms were
elaborate, often having fountains and plants in the niches near the
buffet. Bedrooms usually had an alcove, and the room, not counting the
alcove, was an exact square. The bed faced the windows and a large
mirror over a console table was just opposite it. The chimney faced the
principal entrance.

A "_chambre en niche_" was a room where the bed space was not so large
as an alcove. The designs for sides of rooms by Meissonier, Blondel,
Briseux Cuilles and others give a good idea of the arrangement and
proportions of the different rooms. The cabinets or studies, and the
_garde robes_, were entered usually from doors near the alcove. The
ceilings were painted by Boucher and others in soft and charming colors,
with cupids playing in the clouds, and other subjects of the kind. Great
attention was given to clocks and they formed an important and
beautiful part of the decoration.

The natural consequence of the period of excessive rococo with its
superabundance of curves and ornament, was that, during the last years
of Louis's reign, the reaction slowly began to make itself felt. There
was no sudden change to the use of the straight line, but people were
tired of so much lavishness and motion in their decoration. There were
other influences also at work, for Robert Adam had, in England,
established the classic taste, and the excavations at Pompeii were
causing widespread interest and admiration. The fact is proved that what
we call Louis XVI decoration was well known before the death of Louis
XV, by his furnishing Luciennes for Madam Du Barri in almost pure Louis
XVI style.

[Illustration: A chair from Fontainebleau, typical of the early Louis
XIV epoch before the development of its full grandeur.]

[Illustration: This Louis XV bergère is especially interesting as it
shows the broad seat made to accommodate the full dresses of the

[Illustration: There is a special charm about this old Louis XVI bench
with its Gobelin tapestry cover.]

_Louis XVI_

Louis XVI came to the throne in 1774, and reigned for nineteen years,
until that fatal year of '93. He was kind, benign, and simple, and had
no sympathy with the life of the court during the preceding reign. Marie
Antoinette disliked the great pomp of court functions and liked to play
at the simple life, so shepherdesses, shepherd's crooks, hats, wreaths
of roses, watering-pots and many other rustic symbols became the

Marie Antoinette was but fifteen years old when in 1770 she came to
France as a bride, and it is hardly reasonable to think that the taste
of a young girl would have originated a great period of decoration,
although the idea is firmly fixed in many minds. It is known that the
transition period was well advanced before she became queen, but there
is no doubt that her simpler taste and that of Louis led them to accept
with joy the classical ideas of beauty which were slowly gaining ground.
As dauphin and dauphiness they naturally had a great following, and as
king and queen their taste was paramount, and the style became

Architecture became more simple and interior decoration followed suit.
The restfulness and beauty of the straight line appeared again, and
ornament took its proper place as a decoration of the construction, and
was subordinate to its design. During the period of Louis XVI the rooms
had rectangular panels formed by simpler moldings than in the previous
reign, with pilasters of delicate design between the panels. The
overdoors and mantels were carried to the cornice and the paneling was
usually of oak, painted in soft colors or white and gilded. Walls were
also covered with tapestry and brocade. Some of the most characteristic
marks of the style are the straight tapering legs of the furniture,
usually fluted, with some carving. Fluted columns and pilasters often
had metal quills filling them for a part of the distance at top and
bottom, leaving a plain channel between. The laurel leaf was used in
wreath form, and bell flowers were used on the legs of furniture. Oval
medallions, surmounted by a wreath of flowers and a bow-knot, appear
very often, and in about 1780 round medallions were used. Furniture was
covered with brocade or tapestry, with shepherds and shepherdesses or
pastoral scenes for the design. The gayest kinds of designs were used in
the silks and brocades; ribbons and bow-knots and interlacing stripes
with flowers and rustic symbols scattered over them. Curtains were less
festooned and cut with great exactness. The canopies of beds became
smaller, until often only a ring or crown held the draperies, and it
became the fashion to place the bed sideways, "_vu de face_."

There was a great deal of beautiful ornament in gilded bronze and ormolu
on the furniture, and many colored woods were used in marquetry. The
fashion of using Sèvres plaques in inlay was continued. There was a
great deal of white and colored marble used and very fine ironwork was
made. Riesener, Roentgen, Gouthiére, Fragonard and Boucher are some of
the names that stand out most distinctly as authors of the beautiful
decorations of the time. Marie Antoinette's boudoir at Fontainebleau is
a perfect example of the style and many of the other rooms both there
and at the Petit Trianon show its great beauty, gayety and dignity
combined with its richness and magnificence.

The influence of Pompeii must not be overlooked in studying the style of
Louis XVI, for it appeared in much of the decoration of the time. The
beautiful little boudoir of the Marquise de Sérilly is a charming
example of its adaptation. The problem of bad proportion is also most
interestingly overcome. The room was too high for its size, so it was
divided into four arched openings separated by carved pilasters, and the
walls covered with paintings. The ceiling was darker than the walls,
which made it seem lower, and the whole color scheme was so arranged
that the feeling of extreme height was lessened. The mantel is a
beautiful example of the period. This room was furnished about 1780-82.

Compared to the lavish curves of the style of Louis XV, the fine
outlines and the beautiful ornament of Louis XVI appear to some people
cold, but if they look carefully at the matter, they will find them not
really so. The warmth of the Gallic temperament still shows through the
new garb, giving life and beauty to the dainty but strong furniture.

If one studies the examples of the styles of Louis XIV, Louis XV and
Louis XVI that one finds in the great palaces, collections, museums and
books of prints and photographs, one will see that the wonderful
foundation laid by Louis XIV was still there in the other two reigns.
During the time of Louis XVI the pose of rustic simplicity was a very
sophisticated pose indeed, but the reaction from the rocaille style of
Louis XV led to one of the most beautiful styles of decoration that the
world has seen. It had dignity, true beauty and the joy of life
expressed in it.

[Illustration: Rare Louis XVI chair - an original from Fontainebleau.]

[Illustration: The American Empire sofa, when not too elaborate, is a
very beautiful article of furniture.]

_The Empire_

The French Revolution made a tremendous change in the production of
beautiful furniture, as royalty and the nobility could no longer
encourage it. Many of the great artists died in poverty and many of them
went to other countries where life was more secure.

After the Revolution there was wholesale destruction of the wonderful
works of art which had cost such vast sums to collect. Nothing was to
remain that would remind the people of departed kings and queens, and a
committee on art was appointed to make selections of what was to be
saved and what was to be destroyed. That committee of "tragic comedians"
set up a new standard of art criticism; it was not the artistic merits
of a piece of tapestry, for instance, that interested them, but whether
a king or queen dared show their heads upon it. If so, into the flames
it went. Thousands of priceless things were destroyed before they
finished their dreadful work.

When Napoleon came into power he turned to ancient Rome for inspiration.
The Imperial Cæsars became his ideal and gave him a wide field in which
to display his love for splendor, uncontrolled by any true artistic
sense. It gave decoration a blow from which it was hard to recover.
Massive furniture without real beauty of line, loaded with ormolu, took
the place of the old. The furniture was simple in construction with
little carving, until later when all kinds of animal heads and claws,
and animals never seen by man, and horns of plenty, were used to support
tables and chairs and sofas. Everywhere one turned the feeling of
martial grandeur was in the air. Ormolu mounts of bay wreaths, torches,
eagles, military emblems and trophies, winged figures, the sphinx, the
bee, and the initial N, were used on furniture; and these same motives
were used in wall decoration. The furniture was left the natural color
of the wood, and mahogany, rosewood, and ebony, were used. Veneer was
also extensively used. The front legs of chairs were usually straight,
and the back legs slightly curved. Beds were massive, with head and
foot-board of even height, and the tops rolled over into a scroll. Swans
were used on the arms of chairs and sofas and the sides of beds. Tables
were often round, with tripod legs; in fact, the tripod was a great
favorite. There was a great deal of inlay of the favorite emblems but
little carving. Plain columns with Doric caps and metal ornaments were
used. The change in the use of color was very marked, for deep brown,
blue and other dark colors were used instead of the light and gay ones
of the previous period. The materials used were usually of solid colors
with a design in golden yellow, a wreath, or a torch, or the bee, or one
of the other favorite emblems being used in a spot design, or powdered
on. Some of the color combinations in the rooms we read of sound quite

Since the time of the Empire, France has done as the rest of the world
has, gone without any special style.

_English Furniture from Gothic Days to the Period of Queen Anne._

The early history of furniture in all countries is very much the
same - there is not any. We know about kings and queens, and war and
sudden death, and fortresses and pyramids, but of that which the people
used for furniture we know very little. Research has revealed the
mention in old manuscripts once in a while of benches and chests, and
the Bayeux tapestry and old seals show us that William the Conquerer and
Richard Coeur de Lion sat on chairs, even if they were not very
promising ones, but at best it is all very vague. It is natural to
suppose that the early Saxons had furniture of some kind, for, as the
remains of Saxon metalwork show great skill, it is probable they had
skill also in woodworking.

In England, as in France, the first pieces of furniture that we can be
sure of are chests and benches. They served all purposes apparently, for
the family slept on them by night and used them for seats and tables by
day. The bedding was kept in the chests, and when traveling had to be
done all the family possessions were packed in them. There is an old
chest at Stoke d'Abernon church, dating from the thirteenth century,
that has a little carving on it, and another at Brampton church of the
twelfth or thirteenth century that has iron decorations. Some chests
show great freedom in the carving, St. George and the Dragon and other
stories being carved in high relief.

[Illustration: An Apostles bed of the Tudor period, so-called from the
carved panels of the back. The over elaboration of the late Tudor work
corresponded in time with France's deterioration in the reign of Henry

Nearly all the existing specimens of Gothic furniture are
ecclesiastical, but there are a few that were evidently for household
use. These show distinctly the architectural treatment of design in the
furniture. Chairs were not commonly used until the sixteenth century.
Our distinguished ancestors decided that one chair in a house was
enough, and that was for the master, while his family and friends sat on
benches and chests. It is a long step in comfort and manners from the
fifteenth to the twentieth century. Later the guest of honor was given
the chair, and from that may come the saying that a speaker "takes the
chair." Gothic tables were probably supported by trestles, and beds were
probably very much like the early sixteenth century beds in general
shape. There were cupboards and armoires also, but examples are very
rare. From an old historical document we learn that Henry III, in 1233,
ordered the sheriff to attend to the painting of the wainscoted chamber
in Winchester Castle and to see that "the pictures and histories were
the same as before." Another order is for having the wall of the king's
chamber at Westminster "painted a good green color in imitation of a
curtain." These painted walls and stained glass that we know they had,
and the tapestry, must have given a cheerful color scheme to the
houses of the wealthy class even if there was not much comfort.

[Illustration: In this walnut dressing-table the period of William and
Mary has been adapted to modern needs.]

[Illustration: This reproduction of a Charles II chair shows cherubs
supporting crowns.]

The history of the great houses of England, and also the smaller
manor-houses, is full of interest in connection with the study of
furniture. There are many manor-houses that show all the characteristics
of the Gothic, Renaissance, Tudor and Jacobean periods, and from them we
can learn much of the life of the times. The early ones show absolute
simplicity in the arrangement, one large hall for everything, and later
a small room or two added. The fire was on the floor and the smoke
wandered around until it found its way out at the opening, or louvre, in
the roof. Then a chimney was built at the dais end of the hall, and the
mantelpiece became an important part of the decoration. The hall was
divided by "screens" into smaller rooms, leaving the remainder for
retainers, and causing the clergy to inveigh against the new custom of
the lord of the manor "eating in secret places." The staircase developed
from the early winding stair about a newel or post to the beautiful
broad stairs of the Tudor period. These were usually six or seven feet
broad, with about six wide easy steps and then a landing, and the
carving on the balusters was often very elaborate and sometimes very

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Online LibraryLucy Abbot ThroopFurnishing the Home of Good Taste A Brief Sketch of the Period Styles in Interior Decoration with Suggestions as to Their Employment in the Homes of Today → online text (page 3 of 12)