*Above interior by Carmiña Roth
If you’ve ever found yourself a bit intimidated by the many periods, styles, and terms of the French Louis furniture, you’re not alone. The sumptuous tastes of Louis XIV, Louis XV, and Louis XVI produced a wealth of highly influential styles that are as relevant and tasteful now as ever, and a specialized vocabulary exists to describe them all. Have no fear! Here are a few things to know and a short list of handy tips for differentiating the styles of the Rococo Era.
Louis XIV, XV, or XVI?
No articles of furniture reveal the character of a period more than its seats. Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, chair design reflected current fashions in clothing, social gatherings, and even hairdressing. In this post, we’ll focus on chairs from the period of Louis XV, which are medium-sized and easily the most distinctive of the three periods.
The style of Louis XV is far curvier than the styles of Louis XIV and Louis XVI, with curved legs, arms, and backs. Unlike the other Louis periods, Louis XV shapes are not symmetrical – Rococo was a product of the Naturalistic era, as evidenced by effusive use of rocaille (rock and shell) motifs, carved leaves, and floral ornaments.
Louis XV seats are portable and comfortable, made for a period that favored gatherings from which etiquette was banished, and at which the guests fell into informal groups.
Chairs of Louis XV: The Fauteuil vs. The Bergère
Two styles of chairs best exemplify the Rococo period, an era spent in the gratification of every kind of refinement and luxury: the fauteuil and the bergère. Here’s how you can tell them apart:
The easiest way to identify a fauteuil or bergère is by looking at the arms. A typical Louis XV fauteuil has a mid-height back framed by carved wooden arms. The arms placed lower toward the front of the chair than at the back allowed for more relaxed positioning of the forearm (and comfortable seating while wearing hoop skirts!). The bergère, invented about 1720, is a wide, low, and capacious armchair. Its essential feature is its solid sides.
Fauteuils often served special functions. Fauteuils for the writing table were made in a special “gondola” shape; the backs were low and rounded and were occasionally made to revolve around a center pivot; these chairs have three legs in front and a single leg behind. The shape of the large bergère or “sleeper” chair is more enveloping. If the back reclined, then it was known as a bergère en commodité, while another version was the bergère en confessional, which had low recessed arms and two wings attached to the back to provide protection against drafts.
Whereas one might find fauteuils made from woven cane, all bergère-style chairs feature a moveable cushion on the seat, the “mattress”, which was typically stuffed with down.
Some Final Thoughts on Louis XV?
Even the simplest pieces of eighteenth-century furniture, made for provincial citizens, have as much, or even more beauty than those made for the aristocracy of the same period. An ordinary seat, without any carving, is often the best example of the style, thanks to the beauty of its lines and the harmony of its silhouette.