Regence and Louis XV (French Rococo) Style
The Duke of Orleans, shortly after becoming Regent, moved the royal court to Paris, as he disliked the formality of Versailles. There, a less ceremonial lifestyle developed among the people of the court. They lived in residences called town houses, which were smaller and more intimate than the palace at Versailles. The style of furniture created for these town houses became known as the Régence style.
The interior of the Louis XV style house underwent a change, perhaps due to the desire for more comfort and domestic privacy. Rooms were reduced in scale more suited to human needs. Each room had its special character and use, such as the large drawing room, little rooms for music or reading, and the self-explanatory cabinet de café. The rooms were decorated with wood panelling, painted and gilded and often framed with delicated mouldings, relieved by painted papers from China and India.
The period when Philip, Duke of Orleans was Regent to the infant Louis XV was a time of transition, from Classical arts to a freedom of expression. This first phase of the rococo style - frivolous, exuberant, delicate, curvaceous and asymmetrical - developed with the encouragement of the Regent. The rococo style appealed to European aristocracy as a whole, and foreign rulers and royalty consulted French architects for advice on the construction and decoration of important buildings and palaces.
The columns, pilasters, heavy panelling and overmantels of the Baroque were replaced by rooms with elaborate asymmetrical plasterwork and delicate cornicing contrasting with plain ceilings and paintings above door panels. Mirrors were used lavishly and placed in innovative ways. Stucco and tiles were applied instead of wood panelling, and an Italian influence was visible in the use of coloured marble or imitation marble for floors and chimneypieces. Walls were often hung with the same material as used for chair upholstery and curtains.
The French queen, wife of Louis XV and daughter of the deposed King of Poland, introduced into the court a new dance, which became known as the Polonaise. This was sufficiently energetic to require the ladies to hitch up their dresses, leading to a new style of dress - the Polonaise - in which the skirt could be looped up. This idea of catching things up filtered through to the bed and window treatments of the day.
The rococo was at its height in France in the 1740s.
Rococo style in brief:
- Rooms are small in scale with boiseried walls (carved panels) with rococo decoration that runs into the coving of the ceiling;
- Chinese and Indian wallpapers and silk hung on walls;
- Ceilings sometimes have rococo decorated plasterwork.
Rococo Furniture and Fabrics
During the Régence period, the French cabinetmakers André Charles Boulle and Charles Cressent developed a low chest of drawers called a commode. This form became one of the most popular of the 1700s and was made with regional variations throughout Europe.
During the 1730s, the Régence style took on the features of a new style called rococo. The leading designer of rococo furniture was JusteAurele Meissonnier. His motifs stressed swirling curves, asymmetrical designs, and carvings of rocks and shells. The name rococo comes from the word rocaille, used to describe rock-and-shell designs. The rococo style was also called the Louis XV style.
Furniture became smaller and more suited for comfort. It was also easier to move. Louis XV style furniture was suited to the needs of all spheres of society. The modest pieces made for townspeople often have more beauty of line than the more ambitious items. The real beauty of this furniture is the smooth supple lines and not its rich decoration. There is a great harmony in the combination of graceful and delicate mouldings. Straight lines were avoided and only used when absolutely necessary. Perhaps, the most important characteristic of Louis XV furniture was the use of the cabriole leg, which was inspired by Chinese furniture. Many chairs have no decoration and rely solely on the delicate mouldings and gentle swelling curve for their aesthetic value. Asymmetry is a feature on Louis XV furniture and the French craftsmen were able to achieve this without losing the balance of a piece.
Most chairs were made of beech but some menuisiers made use of walnut, lime and cherry. In the provincial districts fruit wood was popular and menuisiers used cherry, pear, chestnut and olive.
Surprisingly, in strict contrast to the informality of the rococo style, furniture of the period still tended to be arranged around the room in a very rigid and symmetrical fashion.
Silk was the most widely used covering in the grander homes, but linen and printed cottons were also used. Chairs were often supplied with two sets of covers, something light and informal for the summer and often silk damask coverings for the winter months. Although pastel shades were used for these a great deal, stronger colours such as magenta, deep green and royal blue were to be found in fashionable society.
Turkeywork was still in vogue for the covering of back stools, as was the use of leather. It was at this time in France that draped dressing tables appeared. In keeping with the rococo style, they were given full bouffant and frilled skirts and decorated with ribbons and flowers.
Rococo Furniture and Fabrics in brief:
- Light and elegant curvilinear chairs and commodes have cabriole legs and ormolu mounts;
- Painted furniture;
- Fruit woods popular;
- Gilt furniture also popular;
- Velvets both plain and stamped, brocatelle, damask, flowered silks, and painted silks are used.
- Long casements;
- Simple treatments, pairs of curtains;
- Dress curtains in velvet, silks and damasks.
- Delicate colours such as pink, white, yellow, azure blue and ivory mixed with cream and gold;
- Appliqué on clear colours.
Parquet with Aubusson carpets.
Candles, chandeliers, candelabras, wall sconces.
French Rococo Buildings and Museums
Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Musée Conacq-Jay, Musée Nissim de Camondo, Versailles, Wallace Collection, Victoria and Albert Museum, Bowes Museum, Waddeston Manor.
© Adrienne Chinn - London