French Furniture, Louis XVI Style

Even before Louis XV’s death in 1775, the furniture style associated with his reign was abandoned in favor of a simpler neoclassical style which was identified with his successor, Louis XVI.

Through the efforts of Madame Pompadour, a woman of refinement, culture, education and wealth, the City of Pompeii, which was buried during the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius was excavated. It revealed a city in the same state, as it was when the eruption of the volcano buried it in 79 AD. They were quickly captured by the constant flow of ideas and drawings of Roman scrolls, monuments and motifs.

The rococo style slowly faded when people began to take an interest in new discoveries. Louis XVI reigned for a period of 14 years from 1775 to 1789. The Louis XVI style supports a simpler, less ornate design of furniture. Straight lines and simplicity are the guiding principles of this period. In Louis XVI architecture and furniture designs, curves are eliminated and replaced by straight lines that are totally opposite to the Louis XV style. If ever there is curvature in the design, it is usually drawn by the compass and not by the free form. The backs of the chairs are generally oval, rectangular or shield-shaped. The cabriole legs have been replaced with straight legs and are grooved imitating the columns of ancient Rome. Most cases are usually rectangular in shape and there are no more curves like in the bomb of Louis XV. This period does not have many ornaments in its design and is often not even carved or painted. It is usually finished in natural wood with the most commonly used mahogany. Since this period is so strongly influenced by the ideals of ancient Rome and Greece, the Louis XVI style is alternatively called neoclassical style.

Typical reasons for this period include:

1. The lyre which is a classic Roman musical instrument.

2. Fluted legs imitating Roman columns with square blocks carved with rosettes at the top of the legs.

3. Urns and columns.

Despite its difference from the Louis XV style, the Louis XVI neoclassical style retains the delicacy of its predecessor. Adheres to the size and grace of Louis XV rather than the enormous size of the Louis XIV baroque style. To better identify the Louis XVI style; here are its basic features.

1. It has fluted legs, thin and straight, generally surmounted by a square box with rosette carving.

2. Has arc and compass drawn mechanical curves; it is never a free form.

3. Most of the furniture contains classical motifs such as columns, urns and lire.

4. Adheres to the delicate construction of the previous style while maintaining grace and delicacy throughout its design.

The Louis XVI style of furniture is widely used and applied in today’s home decoration. Its simplicity but delicacy and elegance appeals to today’s decoration needs.


by Michael Russell

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