18th Century French Furniture Style Guide
Over the course of the eighteenth century, the French Royal court was the dominant force in defining taste and style throughout Europe, rendering French 18th century furniture extremely desirable. The combination of fashionable styles and impeccable artistry meant that French craftsmanship reigned supreme.
RÉGENCE 1700 – 1730
Charles Cressent was one of the most highly revered masters within the Régence and early Rococo periods. His work was characterized by the use of exotic timbers such as palissandre and amaranth. His bombé commodes are lavished in highly sculptural and decorative ormolu mounts resulting in almost a total loss of form and function in favour of the curvaceousness and movement of the gilt bronze. Many of these features are beautifully demonstrated by the commode pictured, c. 1730, found at Waddesdon Manor.
The Régence is a period of 18th-century french furniture that spans two, the end of the heavy baroque classicism of Louis XIV’s court under the artistic direction of Charles LeBrun and the beginning of what would become the Rococo. As early as 1699, the King had called for a lighter new style in the creation of the updated interiors for the Chateâu de la Ménagerie at Versailles, he noted that ‘youthfulness’ was lacking in the first drafts. Even the King needed somewhere to escape the omnipresent pomp and majesty of the Official style that adorned every room of Versailles. He found his respite at Trianon and Marly.
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The comfortable rooms at Marly were designed in stark contrast to those of Versailles. Comfort was the order of the day, combined with gracefulness and elegance. A general reduction of the highly sculptural baroque, its decorative elements, and bold classical orders were seen as the style developed under the guidance of Jules Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708). A key decorative detail of the Régence was the use of ‘Strapwork’ as a 3-dimensional decorative motif, joining architectural details as well as furniture ornament. The notable designers of the day included Jean Berain (1640-1711) Claude Audran ( 1658-1734) and Pierre Le Pautre (C.1648-1716).
Under the direction of the Regent, The Duc D’Orleans, the French court moved from Versailles to Paris and the young Prince Louis who was 5 years old in 1715 took up residence in the Tuileries. Versailles at this time had become ‘gloomy and faded’ and with this move the court artists and intellectuals followed. France at this time was in financial dire straits following numerous very expensive wars during Louis XIV’s reign. As a result, much of the commissions for the new style came from private figures to furnish their new hôtels in the Faubourg St.-Honoré and Faubourg St. Germain – 18th-century french furniture.