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Decorative Style - The Empire

( Originally Published Early 1900's )



The French Revolution made a tremendous change in the production of beautiful furniture, as royalty and the nobility could no longer encourage it. Many of the great artists died in poverty and many of them went to other countries where life was more secure.

After the Revolution there was wholesale destruction of the wonderful works of art which had cost such vast sums to collect. Nothing was to remain that would remind the people of departed kings and queens, and a committee on art was appointed to make selections of what was to be saved and what was to be destroyed. That committee of " tragic comedians " set up a new standard of art criticism; it was not the artistic merits of a piece of tapestry, for instance, that interested them, but whether a king or queen dared show their heads upon it. If so, into the flames it went. Thousands of priceless things were destroyed before they finished their dreadful work.

When Napoleon came into power he turned to ancient Rome for inspiration. The Imperial Caesars became his ideal and gave him a wide field in which to display his love for splendor, uncontrolled by any true artistic sense. It gave decoration a blow from which it was hard to recover.

Massive furniture without real beauty of line, loaded with ormolu, took the place of the old. The furniture was simple in construction with little carving, until later when all kinds of animal heads and claws, and animals never seen by man, and horns of plenty, were used to support tables and chairs and sofas. Everywhere one turned the feeling of martial grandeur was in the air. Ormolu mounts of bay wreaths, torches, eagles, military emblems and trophies, winged figures, the sphinx, the bee, and the initial N, were used on furniture, and these same motives were used in wall decoration. The furniture was left the natural color of the wood, and mahogany, rosewood, and ebony, were used. Veneer was also extensively used. The front legs of chairs were usually straight, and the back legs slightly curved. Beds were massive, with head and foot-board of even height, and the tops rolled over into a scroll. Swans were used on the arms of chairs and sofas and the sides of beds. Tables were often round, with tripod legs; in fact, the tripod was a great favorite. There was a great deal of inlay of the favorite emblems but little carving. Plain columns with Doric caps and metal ornaments were used. The change in the use of color was very marked, for deep brown, blue and other dark colors were used instead of the light and gay ones of the previous period. The materials used were usually of solid colors with a design in golden yellow, a wreath, or a torch, or the bee, or one of the other favorite emblems being used in a spot design, or powdered on. Some of the color combination in the rooms we read of sound quite alarming.

Since the time of the Empire,France has done as the rest of the world has, gone without any special style.



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