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The Rococo Style

Historical Background. The Rococo style was typically French. It was the joyous expression of a people who were glad that Louis XIV was dead as they were tired of his pomp and his costly wars. The Regency was a brief period during which the Duke of Orleans, an uncle of Louis XV, ruled. He influenced the manners and customs of the court, however, rather than the French decorative style. The chief characteristics of Regency furniture were exquisite grace and extravagant ornamentation. All its contours were free and flowing.

When Louis XV became king the stiff formality of the previous regime was entirely gone. The women of the court ruled Louis XV, and their influence favored smaller houses and rooms and smaller, comfortable furniture. The aim was no longer to be impressive and grand, but to be gay and luxurious. There was less money to expend, so there was less incentive to display.

This period marked the highest achievement of the French styles. It grew out of a materialistic ideal, and it produced a sensuous beauty through unified expression in fine form, color, materials, and technique.

Interior Architecture. The exteriors of the buildings of this period were Classic, but the interiors were Rococo. Panels on interior walls were often outlined by delicate moldings broken by Rococo scrolls. In the panels were mirrors, fine textiles, or painted decorations by famous artists. The unity between the forms of the furniture and the lines of decoration on the walls is part of the charm of this period.

Furniture. Furniture was largely of walnut, but mahogany was also used, and some precious woods especially for inlay, marquetry, and veneer. Almost all the lines of the furniture were curved at this time. Cabriole legs without stretchers, ending with head or scroll feet, were nearly always used. Elaborate carving, gilding, lacquering, ormolu, inlay, and marquetry decorated the furniture. The most important lacquerwork was the greenish Vernis-Martin, created by Martin to protect the pictures painted on the furniture. Ormolu or metal ornamentation was very common during this period. Furniture was trimmed with gay metal forms serving as drawer pulls, corner mounts, hinges, key plates, feet, or merely as design elements.

Decoration. Asymmetrical designs took the place of symmetrical ones. The favorite subjects of the previous period-mythological, biblical, and historical events-were now replaced by scenes of the social activities of the time. The acanthus motif was abandoned for the shell which appeared on walls and furniture. Other popular motifs were stalactites, festoons, vases, plumes, ribbons, wings, lace, cupids, flames, wreaths, flowers, satyrs, doves, and pendants. The source of the style was the Baroque, modified by Flemish, Oriental, and Naturalistic influences. A definite Chinese influence developed because there were cordial relations between the rulers of France and China. Chinese dragons, vases, pagodas, birds, scenery, and figures appeared in French textiles.

For the first time colors were light and also bright, suitable for this new style. Ivory and gray with much gilding were used for furniture. A certain soft crimson rose was the most popular color, and green was next, but neither one was rich or heavy.

Textiles.   The textiles ordinarily had small patterns of realistic flowers combined with scrolls, lattice, and lace. Pastoral love scenes made popular patterns for tapestry and needlework. Damask, brocade, brocatelle, satin, velvet, printed cotton and linen, tapestry, and needlework were used. Slipcovers of heavy taffeta were sometimes employed in the summer time. French carpets or Oriental rugs of thick pile covered the floors.

Modern Use of the Louis XV Style.   This style is now found in drawing rooms, in women's apartments, and in bedrooms. It is appropriate to some extent in Georgian houses. The more simple pieces finished in natural walnut go well with the furniture of other periods, such as the Queen Anne and Chippendale. Louis XV and Louis XVI styles are often combined because they agree in spirit and in scale. It is desirable, but not necessary, when this French style is used, to panel the walls so that they harmonize with the furniture. English and Americans usually want only a few French pieces to add interest and beauty to other furnishings of a more sturdy character.

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