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These delightful armchairs, sidechairs, sofas and incidental tables in the French style of the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century are in their comfort, attractiveness of line and simplicity of ornament, overcoming the impression of unsuitability to American domestic conditions received from the heavily ornate examples of the rococo tendencies of the Louis XV period. Much of this feeling was due to the unfortunate selection in the past of palace pieces for modest American homes, and also to a misunderstanding of museum displays in which, for historic purposes, were exhibited sumptuous pieces that had been made for royalty. Even examples of, types that the French themselves called rococo were occasionally brought into American homes, although the French had already turned (in the 1780's and 1790's) to articles of more austere grace.
Furniture of the Directoire period easily becomes at home in almost any assemblage of well-designed pieces. One finds Directorie chairs and sofas adding to the attractive ness of an ensemble in which may be William and Mary pieces, Chippendale mirrors or Flemish and Italian cabinets. The small scale and, in some pieces, the artistic daintiness of the design have made them a traditional fashion for women's bedrooms where an effect of light elegance, only obtainable through French furniture, is desired. This epoch of French decoration also supplies foyers today-even when the ensemble effect is more modern than old-with a console table bearing a richly grained marble top, straightfluted legs and perhaps a mirror of the period over it.
In selecting the simpler models of certain French periods, related in time and spirit to the colonizing of Louisiana, we are in line with the American tradition for simplicity in furniture which was shown in simple Colonial times in New England and New York in the use of less ornate forms of English cabinet work. Something of this feeling no doubt stirred the demand for French country furniture made around the beginning of the nineteenth century, and it has recently heightened interest in the revival of French furniture imported into or made in Louisiana one hundred years ago or so.
Pieces of French rural furniture in the Directoire style, which have been coming into this country in increasing numbers, were, like other provincial furniture inspired by the fashion in Paris at the time, modified by local village tastes and traditions. A chair or sofa in this style in the living room or bedchamber gives interesting variety to the furnishings. Especially are pieces of this French farm and village furniture being used in sun rooms, where, with cushions often made of quilted skirts of Normandy peasant women or French chintz in bright reds or yellows dotted with floral sprays, they contribute quaintness. With early New England furniture the French peasant pieces go very harmoniously.
Of course the typical upholstery for the Paris styles is the striped weave characteristic of Louis XVI and the Directoire times. But there is also a variety of coverings in tapestry and needlework which provides the householder with opportunity to make the most out of these items. Moreover, one may use the wood in its natural walnut tone, painted or lacquered. In the cheerful pastel hues the painted furniture faintly suggests without offending simple tastes the more elaborate of the great French styles.
That time in French history known as the Directoire lasted really only from 1795 to 1799. But the term Directoire, when applied to decoration, is often rather flexibly extended to cover the period up to the definite Empire style of Napoleon of some five years later. Toward the end of the reign of Louis XVI the Greek and Roman classic feeling took a strong hold of French craftsmen, and in the Directoire period we have examples of the most beautiful specimens of classic design that any epoch of French decorative art can show. Mme. Recamier and David, the artist, both had considerable influence on the art of the day, the one in her appreciation of this return to antiquity and the other in actual designing.
In spite of the period names given to the different changes of styles in French decorative art, it is not easy to tell just where one fashion leaves off and another begins. The change of feeling toward the lines and motives seen in the most characteristic Directoire furniture really began in the period of Louis XVI-two reigns after the founding of Louisiana. In its turn the Directoire characteristics merge into those of the early Empire. In addition to the refinement of line and the use of ornamental details of Greek and Roman inspiration characteristic of Directoire furniture, there is a beautiful curve that is incorporated in various ways. One finds, for example, the graceful line of the upper part of a sofa, the back curving around on both ends so that there is a beautiful undulating line along the top of the back and sides. Some chairs show another form as a of the curved line in the backs. And there are the small tables with their tapering legs incorporating a curve that is full of grace.
With the growing importance of suiting the size of the furniture to the room, the fineness of form and the delicacy of scale of Directoire furniture are making it more and more popular among those who have a feeling for subtlety of form. Furniture of this type is so individual that it belongs in the class of cabinet work which people either like or do not like, and will doubtless long retain its charm as well as its aloofness among the many varieties of furniture making up our homes.
In use, a Directoire chair or table may have its individuality and beauty emphasized by an accessory such as a pewter stand lamp with a shade of painted tole, known as a bouillote. This, originally equipped for two or three candles, now may be had wired for electricity. An old French engraving in a suitable frame, or a mirror of the period of the Louisiana Purchase, are also accessories that may be used to aid the piece of furniture in holding its own among diverse types of cabinet work.