What is the French Classic furniture style?
The French classic style slowly came about during the Renaissance. The revival of ancient philosophy, literature and art was introduced to the French when France invaded Italy under the reign of Louis XII. The Renaissance gave a stimulus to ‘translatio’, ‘imitatio’ and ‘aemulatio’, meaning to translate, imitate and transcend the Ancient culture. Especially in France, the urge to transcend the Classics was heavily present among intellectuals. French artisans, being introduced to the present classic style furniture in Italy, started the style shift as imitation. However, soon they began to show this same urge over the course of periods to come. Most periods showed strong governance over craftsmen, mainly through guilds. Marked by the reigns of Kings and their specific desires, we can distinguish between the periods presented below.
During the Renaissance, French artisans started imitating the Ancient classics, with deeply carved furniture and ornate designs. Most furniture resembled miniatures of the classic buildings with Ionic and Corinthian columns and their iconic balustrades.
Louis XIII period
As the French middle class became wealthier, demand for furniture surged also. This period can be marked as the period where upholstery became widely present in furniture and the bourgeoisie expected furniture to be both aesthetic and comfortable.
Louis XIV period
Because Louis XIV rose to the throne when he was just 4 years old, he was able to set a record of 72 years of reign. His reign marked the end of the Renaissance and the begin of the palatial Baroque era. During this long period the beauty of furniture was more important than its comfort. Intricate marquettery and extensive carving in rather straight lines are deep-seated in this period. Not meant for the common man, distinct furniture pieces of this period are the fauteuil with upholstered armrests, the writing desks and the commodes with fine details.
When the Sun King, Louis XIV passed away, his 5 year old son was deemed too young to rule and his uncle, the duke of Orleans was installed at Regent for the time being. The duke was not as extravagant as his predecessor. This period in between kings is also regarded as a gradual transitional period from the Baroque era to the informal Rococo. Free of the Sun King’s control, craftsmen started looking beyond for inspiration, mostly found in Mythology and the orient. The biggest characteristic of this period might be the S-curved leg found in chairs, armoires, consoles and sofas. French furniture became widely appreciated in Europe. Even today, furniture from this period is still one of the most popular styles, with its romantic and beautiful look.
Louis XV period
This period showed peace and prosperity and French furniture making was at the peak of influence. Louis XV supported the Enlightenment that started. Accordingly, women attained more power in the court. Their influence was also seen in the furniture full of elegance, comfort and refinement. Furniture was adaptable to the needs of all classes. Especially, the comfortable Chaise longue and the Bergere became widely popular. Also, flamboyant veneer and marquetry was used to make furniture from the asymmetrical Regence period even more extravagant. From here and on, painted wood grew in popularity.
Louis XVI period
Furniture created during this period transmitted a more rustic feeling than previously. Neoclassicism came about and straight lines, right angles and Classical motifs returned. Straight fluted legs replaced the s-curve legs of more architectural pieces. Also, for the first time chairs were purely made as decorative pieces rather than for sake of comfort.
Read more about furniture styles in this guide
French Accents Antiques: Pocket CEU: Understanding Louis XIII, XIV, XV, and XVI Furniture
French Empire Furniture: Style & Characteristics. Retrieved from https://study.com/academy/lesson/french-empire-furniture-style-characteristics.html
Timeline of French Furniture Periods. Retrieved from https://www.lolofrenchantiques.com/french-furniture-periods.html