Wednesday, January 1, 2014


Happy New Year! Let's start 2014 off with a royal bang...Louis Style! 
For nearly two centuries, 1610 – 1792, the House of Bourbon ruled the courts of France 
and its worlds of fashion and decor. Each King Louis had his own signature style of furnishings and 
decorative arts that defined his time and differentiated his reign from the others. 

Louis, Louis

Do you know your Louis chairs? Learn how to recognize the differences with this Leçon sur Louis.

Louis XIII chair – Late Renaissance Style (1610 – 1643)

Louis XIII succeeded his father Henry IV as king of France and Navarre a few months before his ninth birthday. His mother, Marie de' Medici, acted as regent during his minority. The first King Louis ruled during very tumultuous times. Mismanagement of the kingdom and ceaseless political intrigues by Marie de' Medici and her Italian favorites led the young king to take power in 1617 by exiling his mother and executing her followers, including Concino Concini, the most influential Italian at the French court.

Louis XIII style is best understood as the product of a more conservative and less wealthy time. The emerging middle class fueled the demand for furniture. Many middle class people wanted nice furniture but didn’t live in Paris, hence the French country look began. Rustic pieces reflected city styles, but were made for a more relaxed rural life, such as the trestle table with a thick plateau top and graceful legs. For the first time people expected furniture to be comfortable as well as beautiful, as the concept of a comfortable place to sit and relax was just emerging. Fixed upholstery was one of the great inventions of this period.

Louis XIII furniture featured massive, solid construction with geometric carving. It was sturdy and heavy compared to later styles. Ebony and walnut were popular construction materials. French designers were moving away from the Italian Renaissance to establish a style of their own. Furniture design was more opulent. Cherubs, scrolls, fruit, flowers and foliage were common decorative themes. Other typical design themes were the diamond point, pyramid patterns and large, bun feet on cabinetry. Lathe-turning and moulding techniques also influenced appearance. Turnery might be used for legs or stretchers, and these simple shapes created on a lathe help identify pieces as Louis XIII style.

 Chairs were high back with a round shape or low back and square in shape with elaborately turned legs and stretchers. Leather, tapestries and fine fabrics, such as velvet, were nailed directly to the chair’s wooden framework; seats and backs were padded. The Os de Mouton chair is the most notable example of the era, with legs shaped like those of a lamb.

Set Of 6 Antique French Os de Mouton Dining Chairs. Circa Early 1900's. Walnut.
Chapeau de Gendarme Shaped Back. Back and Seat Upholstered with Nailhead Trim.
Louis XIII Legs
1) Os de Mouton 2) Turning in Salomonique - Spirals 3) Turning in Balustrade - Form Pear
4) Turning in Chain - Succession of Ovoids

Louis XIII Style Chair with High, Rounded Back. Circa 1800's.
Tapestry Upholstered Seat and Back with Nailhead Trim.

Louis XIV chair – Baroque Style (1643 – 1715)

The era of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, marked the definite end of the Renaissance period in France and the beginning of a series of distinct period furniture styles, the first being the enormously 
influential Baroque. Ruling France for 72 years, 3 months and 18 days, his reign is the
 longest of any European monarch to date. It was an age of courtly splendor and grandeur; of rich, massive furniture, well suited to the palace. 

Louis XIV transformed Versailles from a simple hunting lodge used as a secret refuge for his amorous trysts with Louise de la Valliere into the most magnificent palace in the country. By bringing artisans from all over the world to France, Versailles became the focus of his strategy to make France known to the world as a symbol of civilization and pleasure. Louis XIV chose Versailles as the fixed residency of his entire court, forcing them to live there with him. The Palace of Versailles became the official residence for the Kings of France from 1682 until 1790. His power was absolute. It extended to every nuance of French life, from manners to fashion.

During the era of Louis XIV there was a breakthrough in chair construction. Led by artist Charles Le Brun, Paris furniture makers created pieces that were opulent, symmetrical and grandly scaled. Louis XIV set up a furniture industry on the outskirts of Paris for the sole purpose of creating political dominance through artifact. The Louis XIV style is marked by dignity, grandeur, bold effects, lavish but not excessive ornament, and faultless workmanship. Curves were modest, straight lines prominent and elaborate ornamentation reigned supreme. Armchairs were more like thrones with heavy carvings and rich upholstery. The backs of chairs became higher and the seats larger. Most chairs from this period have stretchers. Design motifs backed the king as all powerful, and furniture was interlaced with the "L" initial, fleur de lis, and the sunburst. Other popular motifs include: acanthus leaves, arabesques, musical instruments, human and animal grotesques, sphinxes, griffins and lion’s head and paws. This French king was not only advertising his power over the church in these furniture designs, he was also positioning himself as a semi-deity to his people. Because the furniture was so expensive, very few pieces were produced.

One of the most common styles of French chairs is the fauteuil, an upholstered armchair with open sides that came into popularity under the reign of Louis XIV. Eventually, upholstered pads were added to the top of the fauteuil armrests for even greater comfort.

The Louis XIV style has been less popular in the past with many favoring the styles of Louis XV and Louis XVI. Recently, however, the Louis XIV style is enjoying something of a revival. Its dignity and distinction make it suitable to the more formal rooms in today’s homes.

Louis XIV Style Fauteuil. Circa 1850's. 

Louis XV chair – Rococo Style (1715 – 1774)

When Louis XIV died in 1715, Louis XV was only 5 years old. The Duke de Orleans was appointed regent until 1723 and the pursuit of power gave way to the pursuit of pleasure. Offended by the pageantry of Versailles, the duke moved the royal court from Versailles back to Paris, allowing nobles to live in their own elegant townhouses. Cane was introduced at this time. The transition from Louis XIV to Louis XV became all about convenience and comfort.

Comfort was all the rage in the 18th century. Regarded by many as the Golden Age of French furniture, Louis XV’s reign was a time of peace and prosperity. Led by Louis XV’s famous mistress Madame de Pompadour, who had her own apartment at Versailles, the nouveau riche society began retiring to the salon where intimately sized rooms called for comfort and less formality. The asymmetrical, more ornate and more playful Rococo style was born.

The Louis XV chair became smaller and more feminine. Springs were added, satisfying the salon society’s craving for comfort. Shells, baskets/sprays of flowers, ribbons, symbols of love and pastoral/romantic scenes became popular motifs, many of these carved into crest rails, aprons and the knees of chair legs. 

The easiest way to spot a Louis XV chair is by the signature “S” shaped cabriole leg. Similar in scale to the Louis XVI chair, there’s no mistaking the legs on Louis XV chairs, shaped like an animal's hind legs. Stretcher supports disappeared from French chairs after the invention of curved cabriole legs.

Most Rococo chairs were designed to sit against a wall. The pastel, intricately embroidered silk of the seats and backs, was an integral part of the design of a room, meant to complement the patterns and colors of the adjacent wall paneling. To accommodate the opulent fashions of the day, chair arms were shortened to account for hoop skirts, while chair backs were lowered to spare huge coiffures.

When upholstery became more readily available under Louis XV’s extravagant Rococo reign, armchairs called bergeres included fabric-covered panels between the arms and seats.

Members of the Parisian guilds were required to stamp or sign their names on pieces of furniture made between 1743 and 1790.

Louis XV Style Corbeille Bergere. Circa 1900.
Raised on Cabriole Legs Ending in Pied de Biche (Deer Feet).

Louis XVI chair – Neoclassical Style (1774 – 1792)

The taste of Queen Marie Antoinette, queen to Louis XVI, is given a great deal of credit for the existence of the Neoclassical style in furniture design. She was responsible for the making of many of the small pieces of furniture that suited the furnishings of her apartment at Versailles.

In Louis XVI furniture there is an emphasis on straight lines and right angles, seriousness, logical design and more classically inspired motifs. Rococo began to be considered frivolous and a classical revival was inspired by the discovery of Pompeii in 1748. Designers also looked back to the more architectural furniture of the Louis XIV period. Furniture is restrained in its form and decoration. There is much use of fluted columns, carved friezes, oak and laurel leaf, wreaths, the Greek band and other various neoclassical attempts to imitate the furniture and architecture of the Romans and Greeks.

The legs on the Louis XVI chairs are easily identifiable also. They are always tapered and fluted in the style of a Roman column. Simple construction and design characterize Louis XVI furniture. 

The downfall of the Louis XVI style was the downfall of Louis himself in the French Revolution of 1789. French furniture lost its position of dominance at this time also. The early 19th century is reckoned by many to have been the last great period in French furniture making.

Set of 6 Louis XVI Style Medallion Back Painted Dining Chairs.
Circa Early 1900's. Blue Velvet Upholstery in Excellent Condition. Paris, France 

In general, the evolution of the four French kings followed a simple pattern. Louis XIII furnishings were a push to create more elaborate furniture than that of the Renaissance Era. During Louis XIV's reign furniture grew more elaborate and became even more intricate in the Louis XV reign. The designs finally moderated during the Louis XVI reign when style tempered and grew more conservative. While this general pattern helps apply a simple model of understanding to the four styles, it's important to note that even though style is less excessive in the Louis XVI reign, furniture was still produced by a handful of artisans, with expensive materials for the very rich. Identifying the differences among the styles can be challenging for anyone.

Do you know your Louis now?

Á Bientôt!
Lolo & Mimi

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting and well-written article. You are the first blogger I added! I actually had to look up how to do it, but I didn't want to miss your articles so I figured it out. Thank you for posting these great articles! Mimi Chu