Versailles: "Grand" and "Petit Trianon"—the three Styles of Louis
XIV., XV. and XVI.—Colbert and Lebrun—André Charles Boule and his
Work—Carved and Gilt Furniture—The Regency and its Influence—Alteration in
Condition of French Society—Watteau, Lancret, and Boucher.
Louis XV. Furniture: Famous Ebenistes—Vernis
Martin Furniture—Caffieri and Gouthière Mountings—Sêvres Porcelain
introduced into Cabinets—Gobelins Tapestry—The "Bureau du Roi."
Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette: The Queen's
Influence—The Painters Chardin and Greuze—More simple Designs—Characteristic
Ornaments of Louis XVI. Furniture—Riesener's Work—Gouthière's
Mountings—Specimens in the Louvre—The Hamilton Palace Sale—French influence
upon the design of Furniture in other countries—The Jones Collection—Extract
from the "Times."
here is something so
distinct in the development of taste in furniture, marked out by the three
styles to which the three monarchs have given the names of "Louis Quatorze,"
"Louis Quinze," and "Louis Seize," that it affords a fitting point for a new
This will be evident to anyone who will
visit, first the Palace of Versailles,13
then the Grand Trianon, and afterwards the Petit Trianon. By the help of a
few illustrations, such a visit in the order given would greatly interest
anyone having a smattering of knowledge of the characteristic ornaments of
these different periods. A careful examination would demonstrate how the one
style gradually merged into that of its successor. Thus the massiveness and
grandeur of the best Louis Quatorze meubles de luxe, became, in its
later development, too ornate and effeminate, with an elaboration of
enrichment, culminating in the rococo style of Louis Quinze.
Then we find, in the "Petit Trianon," and
also in the Chateau of Fontainebleau, the purer taste of Marie Antoinette
dominating the Art productions of her time, which reached their zenith, with
regard to furniture, in the production of such elegant and costly examples
as have been preserved to us in the beautiful work-table and secretaire—sold
some years since at the dispersion of the Hamilton Palace collection—and in
some other specimens, which may be seen in the Musée du Louvre, in the Jones
Collection in the South Kensington Museum, and in other public and private
collections: of these several illustrations are given.
We have to recollect that the reign of Louis
XIV. was the time of the artists Berain, Lebrun, and, later in the reign, of
Watteau, also of André Charles Boule, ciseleur et doreur du roi, and
of Colbert, that admirable Minister of Finance, who knew so well how to
second his royal master's taste for grandeur and magnificence. The Palace of
Versailles bears throughout the stamp and impress of the majesty of le
Grande Monarque; and the rich architectural ornament of the interior,
with moulded, gilded, and painted ceilings, required the furnishing to be
carried to an extent which had never been attempted previously.
Louis XIV. had judgment in his taste, and he
knew that, to carry out his ideas of a royal palace, he must not only select
suitable artists capable of control, but he must centralize their efforts.
In 1664 Colbert founded the Royal Academy of Painting, Architecture, and
Sculpture, to which designs of furniture were admitted. The celebrated
Gobelins tapestry factory was also established; and it was here the King
collected together and suitably housed the different skilled producers of
his furniture, placing them all under the control of his favourite artist,
Lebrun, who was appointed director in 1667.
The most remarkable furniture artist of this
time, for surely he merits such title, was André Charles Boule, of whom but
little is known. He was born in 1642, and, therefore, was 25 years of age
when Lebrun was appointed Art-director. He appears to have originated the
method of ornamenting furniture which has since been associated with his
name. This was to veneer his cabinets, pedestals, armoires, encoignures,
clocks, and brackets with tortoiseshell, into which a cutting of brass was
laid, the latter being cut out from a design, in which were harmoniously
arranged scrolls, vases of flowers, satyrs, animals, cupids, swags of fruit
and draperies; fantastic compositions of a free Renaissance character
constituted the panels; to which bold scrolls in ormolu formed fitting
frames; while handsome mouldings of the same material gave a finish to the
extremities. These ormolu mountings were gilt by an old-fashioned process,14
which left upon the metal a thick deposit of gold, and were cunningly
chiselled by the skilful hands of Caffieri or his contemporaries.
Boule Armoire, In the "Jones" Collection, S.
Kensington Museum. Louis XIV. Period.
Boule subsequently learned to economise
labour by adopting a similar process to that used by the marqueterie cutter;
and by glueing together two sheets of brass, or white metal, and two of
shell, and placing over them his design, he was then able to pierce the four
layers by one cut of the handsaw; this gave four exact copies of the design.
The same process would be repeated for the reverse side, if, as with an
armoire or a large cabinet, two panels, one for each door, right and left,
were required; and then, when the brass, or white metal cutting was fitted
into the shell so that the joins were imperceptible, he would have two right
and two left panels. These would be positive and negative: in the former
pair the metal would represent the figured design with the shell as
groundwork, and the latter would have the shell as a design, with a ground
of metal. The terms positive and negative are the writer's to explain the
difference, but the technical terms are "first part" and "second part," or "Boule"
and "counter." The former would be selected for the best part of the
cabinet, for instance, the panels of the front doors, while the latter would
be used for the ends or sides. An illustration of this plan of using all
four cuttings of one design occurs in the armoire No. 1026 in the Jones
Collection, and in a great many other excellent specimens. The brass, or the
white metal in the design, was then carefully and most artistically
engraved; and the beauty of the engraving of Boule's finest productions is a
great point of excellence, giving, as it does, a character to the design,
and emphasizing its details. The mounting of the furniture in ormolu of a
rich and highly-finished character, completed the design. The Museé du
Louvre is rich in examples of Boule's work; and there are some very good
pieces in the Jones Collection, at Hertford House, and at Windsor Castle.
The illustration on p. 144 is the
representation of an armoire, which was, undoubtedly, executed by Boule from
a design by Lebrun: it is one of a pair which was sold in 1882, at the
Hamilton Palace sale, by Messrs. Christie, for £12,075. Another small
cabinet, in the same collection, realised £2,310. The pedestal cabinet
illustrated on p. 148, from the Jones Collection, is very similar to the
latter, and cost Mr. Jones £3,000. When specimens, of the genuineness of
which there is no doubt, are offered for sale, they are sure to realize very
high prices. The armoire in the Jones Collection, already alluded to (No.
1026), of which there is an illustration, cost between £4,000 and £5,000.
In some of the best of Boule's cabinets, as,
for instance, in the Hamilton Palace armoire (illustrated), the bronze gilt
ornaments stand out in bold relief from the surface. In the Louvre there is
one which has a figure of Le Grand Monarque, clad in armour, with a
Roman toga, and wearing the full bottomed wig of the time, which scarcely
accords with the costume of a Roman general. The absurd combination which
characterises this affectation of the classic costume is also found in
portraits of our George II.
Pedestal Cabinet, By Boule, formerly in Mr.
Baring's Collection. Purchased by Mr. Jones for £3,000. (South
The masks, satyrs, and ram's heads, the
scrolls and the foliage, are also very bold in specimens of this class of
Boule's work; and the "sun" (that is, a mask surrounded with rays of light)
is a very favourite ornament of this period.
Boule had four sons and several pupils; and
he may be said to have founded a school of decorative furniture, which has
its votaries and imitators now, as it had in his own time. The word one
frequently finds misspelt "Buhl," and this has come to represent any similar
mode of decorations on furniture, no matter how meretricious or common it
A Concert during the Reign of Louis XIV. (From
a Miniature, dated 1696.)
Later in the reign, as other influences were
brought to bear upon the taste and fashion of the day, this style of
furniture became more ornate and showy. Instead of the natural colour of the
shell, either vermilion or gold leaf was placed underneath the transparent
shell; the gilt mounts became less severe, and abounded with the curled
endive ornament, which afterwards became thoroughly characteristic of the
fashion of the succeeding reign; and the forms of the furniture itself
conformed to a taste for a more free and flowing treatment; and it should be
mentioned, in justice to Lebrun, that from the time of his death and the
appointment of his successor, Mignard, a distinct decline in merit can be
Contemporary with Boule's work, were the
richly-mounted tables, having slabs of Egyptian porphyry, or Florentine
marble mosaic; and marqueterie cabinets, with beautiful mountings of ormolu,
or gilt bronze. Commodes and screens were ornamented with Chinese lacquer,
which had been imported by the Dutch and taken to Paris, after the French
invasion of the Netherlands.
Panel for a Screen. Painted by Watteau. Louis
About this time—that is, towards the end of
the seventeenth century—the resources of designers and makers of decorative
furniture were reinforced by the introduction of glass in larger plates than
had been possible previously. Mirrors of considerable size were first made
in Venice; these were engraved with figures and scrolls, and mounted in
richly carved and gilt wood frames; and soon afterwards manufactories of
mirrors, and of glass, in larger plates than before, were set up in England,
near Battersea, and in France at Tour la Ville, near Paris. This novelty not
only gave a new departure to the design of suitable frames in carved wood
(generally gilt), but also to that of Boule work and marqueterie. It also
led to a greater variety of the design for cabinets; and from this time we
may date the first appearance of the "Vitrine," or cabinet with glass panels
in the doors and sides, for the display of smaller objets d'art.
Decoration of a Salon in Louis XIV. Style.
The chairs and sofas of the latter half of
the reign of Louis Quatorze are exceedingly grand and rich. The suite of
furniture for the state apartment of a prince or wealthy nobleman comprised
a canapé, or sofa, and six fauteils, or arm chairs, the frames
carved with much spirit, or with "feeling," as it is technically termed, and
richly gilt. The backs and seats were upholstered and covered with the
already famous tapestry of Gobelins or Beauvais.15
Such a suite of furniture, in bad condition
and requiring careful and very expensive restoration, was sold at Christie's
some time ago for about £1,400, and it is no exaggeration to say that a
really perfect suite, with carving and gilding of the best, and the tapestry
not too much worn, if offered for public competition, would probably realise
between £3,000 and £4,000.
In the appendix will be found the names of
many artists in furniture of this time, and in the Jones Collection we have
several very excellent specimens which can easily be referred to, and
compared with others of the two succeeding reigns, whose furniture we are
now going to consider.
As an example of the difference in both
outline and detail which took place in design, let the reader notice the
form of the Louis Quatorze commode vignetted for the initial letter of this
chapter, and then turn to the lighter and more fanciful cabinets of somewhat
similar shape which will be found illustrated in the "Louis Quinze" section
which follows this. In the Louis Quatorze cabinets the decorative effect, so
far as the woodwork was concerned, was obtained first by the careful choice
of suitable veneers, and then, by joining four pieces in a panel, so that
the natural figure of the wood runs from the centre, and then a banding of a
darker wood forms a frame. An instance of this will also be found in the