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This interesting rural furniture was known a little while ago only to those who, loitering in the French countryside, brought home a chair or chest and gloried in their artistic insight. Today these bits of simple cabinetwork are being sought by discerning home makers for the adornment of living room, dining room and bedchamber. Perhaps you have heard of French country furniture as provincial furniture, or peasant or rustic furniture, or by the names of the districts whence it conies, such as Provence or Normandy or Brittany.
French provincial furniture is distinguished from the examples of the great furniture periods that received their names from the French rulers of the seventeenth and eigh teenth centuries either by a decided simplification of ornament and line or by a local design.
The differences in the first type were dictated by the simple tastes and purses of those who depended upon local cabinetmakers to supply their furniture needs. The wealthy landowner of modest means and the merchant could not go to Paris for their chairs and stables; yet the fashion of the times would be reflected on a modest scale in their household furnishings.
Others desiring new pieces for the home might be more independent of Parisian dictates and have their furniture constructed according to some local style. This was doubt less true of the wealthier peasants, who would be more attached to the ways of their ancestral countryside than would dwellers in the towns. In districts such as Provence the furniture patterns followed generally by the bourgeois and the peasants show little of the influence of the great periods of decoration we know as French.
Many of the chairs and sofas that follow in a simple manner the periods of Louis XV, Louis XVI or Directoire are found today, their once beautifully finished wood surfaces covered with paint-silent witness to an owner's effort to change the appearance of his furniture with the fashion. One may remove this color and have the furniture once more in its beauty of walnut, cherry, peach, pear or applewood; or one may leave the piece just as it is and enjoy its ancient picturesqueness.
Unpainted chairs of distinctly local design are found in many charming patterns. Some have simple wooden backs with perhaps a plaque of pierced carving set between the splats. Sometimes such plaques are painted with little scenes; or perhaps the top rail of the chair carries an almost primitively carved design or stars deeply cut and interspersed with conventionalized tree forms carved in basrelief. Rush seats are also common, and sometimes are incongruously found on a chair whose Parisian lines suggest that a silk upholstered seat might once have adorned it.
Out of this wide variety of forms, the American householder of today has a choice ranging from a primitive effect for a dining room of simple chairs of some delicate toned fruit-wood to a much more elaborate bedroom ensemble, naively reminiscent, in line and gilt and color, of a Parisian home. Old stuffs, such as the hand-blocked glazed chintzes of the period, may be found to supplant the tattered ancient fabrics on chair, sofa or chaise longue. Or one oŁ the quilted petticoats of brightly printed cotton from Normandy or Brittany may be used with beautiful effect.