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Thuya Wood

Thuya Wood in French and European Decorative Arts and Furniture: The 18th and 19th Century Narrative

Native to the western Mediterranean region, particularly in Morocco and Algeria, Thuya wood has a long and storied history in the decorative arts and furniture production of 18th and 19th century France and wider Europe. Esteemed for its deep, lustrous hues, strikingly intricate grain, and a unique, pleasant aroma, Thuya wood became an emblem of luxury and refinement in these centuries.

Thuya wood derives from the burl of the Tetraclinis articulata tree, which produces growths that, when cut and polished, reveal a highly figured, richly coloured wood. The contrast between the light sapwood and the darker, more exotic heartwood creates a unique aesthetic, highly prized by artisans of the period.

The 18th century, known as the “Golden Age of Furniture” in France, saw the Rococo style flourish under Louis XV, followed by a return to classical Greco-Roman themes under Louis XVI. Thuya wood, with its visually appealing grain and ease of workability, was perfectly suited to the elaborate forms and ornamentation of the Rococo style, as well as the more restrained, geometrical patterns of the Neoclassical style.

Small decorative objects such as snuff boxes, writing desks, and clock cases often featured Thuya veneers or inlays, while larger furniture pieces, including armoires, commodes, and desks, were adorned with marquetry patterns using Thuya. In many cases, Thuya wood was paired with other exotic woods and materials like tortoiseshell, brass, and ivory, creating a contrast that further highlighted its unique aesthetic.

In the 19th century, during the reigns of Napoleon III in France and Queen Victoria in Britain, Thuya wood continued to enjoy popularity. The period, marked by a revival of earlier styles, saw Thuya wood used in Boulle work, a form of marquetry that combines richly hued woods with metals and often tortoiseshell. Thuya’s unique grains added depth and visual interest to these intricate designs.

In conclusion, Thuya wood played a significant role in French and European decorative arts and furniture design in the 18th and 19th centuries. Its unique aesthetic qualities and the air of exotic luxury it lent to pieces made it a preferred choice for artisans of the period, cementing its place in the rich history of European decorative arts.

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