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Vernis Martin Lacquers

It may be convenient here to draw attention to the remarkable invention which made Martin's varnish so famous. It was at the beginning of the eighteenth century that so many pieces of Chinese lacquer work were being imported into Europe, and European cabinet-makers tried hard to discover a process by which they could, if not actually copy foreign lacquer, which was produced by natural means, at any rate produce some-thing which would answer the same purpose. A Dutch inventor named Hans Huyjens made a varnish very like the Oriental in the finish he was able to produce with it. One of his workmen was a French - polisher named Guillaume Martin. He learned the secret, and it is said was able to improve upon it. He had four sons who worked with him, and the varnish they produced became the rage in Paris, where they settled. The Martins applied their varnish, which became known as Vernis - Martin, to all kinds of furniture, and they were especially successful in the ornamentation of fancy boxes, and even quite small objects like snuff-boxes. In 1740 the brothers Martin secured a Royal patent, and Vernis-Martin became the rage not only on the Continent but in England. (For further reference to Lacquers, see chap. xix. )

The furniture made under the Reign of Terror or the Directoire was controlled by the Jury of Arts and Manufacture, at whose instigation many fine relics of ancient France, as it was under its kings, were destroyed by fire. This act of vandalism was performed under the Tree of Liberty in the forecourt of the Gobelins Factory. Not only were many priceless objects destroyed but other royal treasures were dispersed. Thus at that time many pieces of furniture, which had been made for kings and nobles, passed into the hands of commoners of other nations.

As the period defined as that of the Directoire indicates the time when the French people had for a time discarded kingly rule, so it also indicates to the connoisseur of furniture a period when a different influence was brought to bear on the trade and commerce of the nation. It is noteworthy that the names of French sovereigns, patrons of art at their respective periods, have assisted in defining periods in French art. Such periods are very appropriate in that French rulers were mostly great supporters of art, and the peculiar changes which came about in French art and furniture and other things is generally noticeable at the commencement of a new reign or era. Royal influences being very intimately associated with the art of a nation, we may look to some indication of change in the Directoire period and during the Revolution in France, the time immediately preceding the First Empire. Makers who had introduced the royal monogram and regal ornament on furniture and in textiles suddenly discarded those emblems of sovereignty and substituted griffins, caryatides, and some classic ornament.

The sphinx came later, after Napoleon had returned from Egypt. There was then the torch for victory, and bay leaves symbolical of the praise meted out to the Conquerer. The honeysuckle or anthemion then introduced was an Egyptian ornament borrowed from ancient Greece.

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

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