history of French furniture style



In the Middle Ages, french furniture was quite scarce, even in the richest households. Medieval folk often improvised places to sit, from storage chests or heavy high-backed chairs with chests under the seats.

RENAISSANCE 1515 - 1560

Renaissance originated in northern Italy in the fourteenth century. In the late 15th century, the French invasion of Italy and the proximity of the vibrant Burgundy court (with its Flemish connections) brought the French into contact with the goods, paintings, furniture and the creative spirit of the Northern and Italian Renaissance, and the initial artistic changes in France were often carried out by Italian and Flemish artists.

Gothic was still to be seen at the beginning of the Renaissance period under Louis XII.

Style became more sober under Henri II. Pilasters and columns evoking porticos were accentuated.

Cabinets replaced chests, chairs, were padded, many cupboards with two or four doors, tables were highly sculptured. Characters from antiquity and mythology were the main subjects. Nymphs, satyrs, allegories of the seasons, friezes and foliation became popular. French furniture was made in oak, walnut or ebony.

LOUIS XIII- furniture style

was influenced from the north, through Flemish and Dutch Baroque. Spiral and bead turning appeared, the french cabinet-maker worked mainly with ebony, perfected veneering and began to use metals.

LOUIS XIV - XVII  century French furniture style    louis XIV

In 1662 Jean-Baptist Colbert, Louis XIV's minister of finance, nationalised the tapestry factory owned by the Gobelin family, to become the Manufacture royale des Gobelins. Andrˇ¦Charles Boulle, 1642-1732, French cabinetmaker, created revolutionary Versailles was in all its glory with its decorators and cabinets-makers Macˇ¦ Sommer, Poitou, Pierre Gole, Cucci, Alexandre Oppenordt, Levasseur.

The commode or chest of drawers appeared with ornate brass pulls and key escutcheons. Tables began to be designed for more specific functions such as gaming and writing. Drawers were introduced in the band just below the top and the bureau-plat was born.

With the back becoming higher and the seat becoming larger to accommodate the more ample seating space.

Legs were figural, baluster, claw.

Pear, walnut, natural woods and imported ebony and precious woods were used. Gilded bronze decoration was popular. Copper, pewter, silver, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl was found in the marquetry.

Faces of gods, bearded fauns, arabesques, nymphs, goddesses, allegories, cornucopia, and foliage abounded. The sun was the royal emblem in the French furniture.

REGENCE - XVIII century French  furniture style

1715 - 1723, when Philippe II, duc d'Orlˇ¦ns, was regent of France. It marks the transition from the massive rectilinear forms of furniture in the Louis XIV style to the the flat, curving motifs in Rococo forms of Louis XV style.

Walnut, rosewood, and mahogany brought contrasts in veneering.

LOUIS XV : 1710 - 1715 - 1774    louis XV

Curved lines and asymmetry became the rule and was expressed in the elaboration of surface ornament. The fashion for Chinese lacquer had an influence on European. New items appeared: chiffoniers, writing desks with flaps, card tables, roll-top desks, wooden panelling, and ladies' furniture: dressing tables, chairs with short armrests, desks, escritoires. A taste for secrecy, which pervaded French society, resulted in multiple hiding places incorporated in articles of Louis XV furniture which opened with springs.

Caned chairs and canapˇ¦ were extremely fashionable under Louis XV, and they were fitted with loose seat cushions. The frames were generally made of beech, walnut or cherry.

There were almost one hundred exotic woods, covering practically the entire range of different colours used in marquetry work.

Cherry wood, which has a fine grain and is a good medium for carving, was used for chairs, tables, commodes, cupboards and other similar articles. The wood was often painted or in gold leaf. Considerable bronze ornamentation was an essential part of some items.

Rocks and shells with foliage and flowers dominated the theme of the ornament with blossoms, sprays and tendrils, reeds, branches of palm and laurel.

The acanthus leaf, originated in ancient Greece, often elaborately serrated and fringed became very long and narrow.

Especially fashionable themes were musical instruments, such as the violin, flageolet and tambourine, hunting and fishing, symbols of love, such as bows, arrows and torches, and pastoral emblems, such as crooks and the large straw hats of shepherdesses.

LOUIS XVI 1754 -1774-1793    louis XVI

The City of Pompeii, which was buried during the eruption of the Vesuvius, was excavated and brought the Parisians new awareness and a surge of interest in classical ancient Rome. The style is alternatively referred as the Neo Classical style.

The Louis XVI style advocates simpler, less ornate furniture design.

The chair backs are usually oval, rectangular or shield form. The cabriole legs have been replaced with straight legs and are fluted imitating the columns of ancient Rome.

The typical motifs of this period the lyre fluted legs imitating Roman columns with square blocks carved with rosettes at the top of legs, urns and columns.

DIRECTOIRE 1789, (the revolution)- 1804

Furniture was generally constructed in beech and painted. Designs became simplified, marquetry was abandoned in favour of more austere decorations. Geometric patterns were prevalent but less extravagant than before. Greek designs became popular ornamental designs, with the sphynx, gryphon, and a Grecian urn. Egyptian motifs emerged. Furniture sometimes included carvings of sphinxes in the bronze hardware detailing.

EMPIRE period (1804-1815)    french empire

The furniture was made from heavy woods such as mahogany and ebony with dark finishes often with decorative bronze mounts. Marble tops were popular as were Egyptian motifs like sphinxes, griffins, urns and eagles and the Napoleonic symbols, the eagle, the bee, the initials "I" and a large "N."

The term "menuisier en ebene", became "ebeniste", in english "ebonist". He was cabinet-maker using ebony.


1755 - 1824

The art of marquetry returned with decorative flowers, garlands and rosettes.

Many combinations of wood were used like burr (a tree growth in which the grain has grown in a deformed manner) ash or elm, maple, satin wood, sycamore, walnut were contrasted with types of rosewood, mahogany, ebony. Curves reappear.

LOUIS  PHILIPPE:1830 - 1848

Many pieces take on a rounded shape as machine tools become widespread and allow easy and speedy execution of that shape, thus explaining why these pieces are more widely available and more affordable.

The style combined the Gothic, Renaissance, Louis XIII and Louis XV periods. Mahogany and rosewoods were most common and marble tops were also used. The use of gesso moulding (a kind of plaster) allows highly decorative frames to be produced easily, painted or gilded finished once dried.

NAPOLEON III    napoleon III

(sometimes called Second Empire) period (1848-1870), in antique French furniture borrowed elements from all the preceding styles. The furniture production in France moved from highly skilled craft to largely mechanized industry.