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Louis XVI Furniture



A GREAT many authentic antique specimens of Louis XVI furniture have come over from France. Intelligently combined with other French styles or with eighteenth century English or Italian examples, this furniture made during the reign of the last of the great Louises is becoming a more integral part of our interiors.

The smaller scale of Louis XVI pieces, when compared with those of other periods (including our own "overstuffed" style), permits an effect of sophisticated elegance even in small rooms. Provincial furniture of this style provides, in a simpler mode, many of the characteristic features of the period.

Thanks to the increased skill of our own craftsmen, reproductions made in this country are becoming noteworthy too. Allowed the time to do a good piece of work and given the proper encouragement, the American furniture maker can produce cabinet work that will compare favorably with the product of the ebonists of the eighteenth century. One must remember, however, that a sofa or a cabinet made by Riesener, the great designer of the time of Louis XVI, was even in those days, when labor was less costly, an expensive thing. Today a piece of furniture made with the same care is equally costly and should not be compared, as regards price, with a more hastily made bit of cabinet work.

One reason why the furniture of the great French Court will associate so readily with, for example, pieces of Adam or Sheraton design, is the similarity that all pieces of Euro pean furniture of about the same period of the eighteenth century had to each other. The straight leg, round and fluted, or square-a distinguishing characteristic of the English chairs, tables and sofas of this time is also, in a general way, a feature of Louis XVI furniture. This straightness of leg is not the only distinguishing mark by which one may tell a Louis XVI chair from one designated Louis XV, but it is the most obvious one.

Ornament is a distinguishing detail, and in the Louis XVI style one finds the acanthus leaf-in the previous period given forms oŁ luxurious abandon-symmetrically and sedately placed. Characteristic of this time are garlands and ribbons and the extensive use of Greek architectural detail, such as the scroll and frets, which, reduced to minute forms, decorate the woodwork of chair and sofas.

Even on the magnificent commodes and cabinets, with their wealth of ormolu and porcelain ornament, the decorations are generally in exquisite scale.

Although the best examples of furniture in Louis XVI style were made during the reign of that monarch, the beginnings of the style appeared years before he ascended the throne. Students of furniture cannot hope to keep styles securely shut up between definite sets of dates. Of the furniture being used today the small occasional table, of which a great variety was produced in the days of Marie Antoinette, is much sought. One may have a Louis XVI table in oval, round, square or rectangular form, the latter shape being most frequently found. Some of the tables when reproduced are made lower in height than were the originals. They make charming coffee tables.

An interesting feature of many of the tables is the low railing of brass placed around the top edge. In the circular ones this extends completely around, like the wooden edge on our piecrust tables. On the rectangular table the railing was placed on three sides, with the front open. As in all the small tables of that time in England as well as France, the top was an opportunity for the cabinet maker to display his skill in marquetry work. Marble in colors and mosaic work were also employed for the tops. The armchair with back and sides making a graceful curve, now often known as a "tub chair," is a Louis XVI type quite popular today. It is one of the most comfortable of the chairs that have come down to us from a period that did not place comfort first. Chairs with square backs and seats, made by Jacob, one of the important designers of the time, may also be chosen by modern decorators. These forms meet a present-day tendency toward the use of straight lines in furniture. For this reason a Louis XVI sofa whose long, rectangular lines are slightly foiled by the graceful outward curving ends is also in demand.

A modern touch-which, however, does not destroy any of the beauty of the fine cabinet work of the past-is the use of chintzes and cretonnes in upholstery instead of the heavier fabrics of the Louis XVI period. Simpler chair forms, including the provincial Louis XVI furniture, are given an air of country simplicity by upholstering them in glazed chintzes of quaint design with old-fashioned flounces. The fine bedsteads of the period, which had headboard and footboard upholstered in damask, brocade or tapestry, may now be enlivened with toile de Jouy.

Although the less elaborately decorated pieces of cabinet work of the Louis XVI period are generally sought today, examples in which rich woods are combined with plaques of Wedgwood or Sevres pottery ware or with painted panels of mythological subjects are also available. Ornaments of repousse work-hammered sheet metal-and ormolu decoration, those bits of bronze molded and hand chased which in the later Empire period degenerated to such depths, were other forms of enrichment of the furniture of Louis XVI.



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