Louis XV Style & History
Not many styles have held such influence through the centuries as that of Louis XV.
This style’s feminity starkly contrasted the masculine characteristics embodied by Louis XIV furniture.
Louis XV style is generally composed of two parts: The Rocaille or Rococo period (1720-1755) and Louis XV proper (1750-1774). Both forms share many similarities, motifs, and inspiration.
Rocaille and coquille, the French words for rock and shell respectively, were the primary motifs used to decorate furniture and other pieces at the time.
But while Baroque furniture caters to robust design and balance, the ornate details of Rococo were purposefully feminine and romantic. They are more graceful and place less of an emphasis on symmetry.
Over time, pieces became more delicate, and artisans frequently included built-in secret compartments inside furniture.
As popularity for Louis XIV moved toward Louis XV, the pomp and circumstance of the Baroque style transitioned into the Regency or Régency style.
This in-between period blended old and new styles, resulting in the Rococo. Themes of vitality, joy, and other aspects of youth became abundant in Louis XV design once he reached adulthood.
Charles Cressent (1685-1768) rose as the most important craftsman of this time. Often, his artistic abilities are comparable to A.C. Boulle.
However, although Cressent was a master in his own right, his work is not entirely indicative of the Rococo period. Instead, J.A. Meissonnier became one of the premier craftsmen of this style.
Two artists specializing in chinoiserie design emerged around this time as well: Jean-Antoine Watteau and Claude Gillot.
These men’s works, specifically Watteau’s pastoral landscapes, were a decor favorite. It is evident in various Rococo details, natural flora, festoons, baskets, ribbon, and lace details.
Other artists, including trained cabinet makers and sculptors, elevated Rococo and Louix XV furniture to new heights. Some other names include:
Louis XV was famous for his good looks and his charm. As a result, he became a favorite of his grandfather Louis XIV, as well as the Duke of Orleans. These men endowed him with an endless allowance that the young king spent at will.
One thing that the King of France spent a great deal of state spending on was the decorative arts. His endowments are one reason why Louis XV furniture reached the caliber of quality and beauty.
Numerous strict rules and regulations carefully controlled furniture design. Production required the joint effort of a collection of artists and craftsmen trained according to the strictly enforced guild practices.
The establishment of furniture guilds led to unparalleled furniture craftsmanship.
That, along with the historical significance of this period of furniture, makes Louis XV pieces some of the most sought-after items today.
First established in the Middle Ages, guilds operated in much the same way until their dissolution in 1791 during the French Revolution.
Furniture makers were a part of the Parisian Corporation des Menuisiers, a guild that required rigorous training, apprenticeship, and practice.
Two groups comprised the Corporation de Menuisiers; first, the woodworkers who crafted the paneling for coaches and buildings, and cabinet makers second.
Cabinet makers divided further into the joiners, who made solid wood furniture, including console tables, beds, and chairs. These men often descended from a long line of furniture makers and lived near Paris.
The ébénistes created veneered case pieces. Unlike the joiners, ébénistes were not typically French and worked in the Faubourg Saint-Antoine.
These professions were usually not combined.
In addition to the guilds, there was another group of active furniture makers, the so-called royal cabinetmakers. They connected directly to the king.
They mostly had their workshops at the Louvre, and they were given special privileges without having to follow the strict guild regulations.
Louis XV Furniture Characteristics
Romance and beauty, staples of French culture, come together in the playful themes of the Rococo and Louis XV periods.
Source: Art Institute Chicago, artic.edu
Designed for comfort and the celebration of women, this style stands out in furniture history.
Its smaller size, graceful lines, decorative metal sculptures, Rococo detailing, and lack of symmetry defines Louis XV furniture.
While the designs in Louis XV are more fanciful and light than Louis XIV, some of the embellishments were almost excessive.
Chairs, side tables, console tables, cabinets, and commodes were all popular pieces during this time.
This period also saw the emergence of the boudoir, which was a casual foyer. Gilded framed screens (popularized by the art of Watteau and Boucher) featuring delicate designs encompassed elaborate tapestries depicting floral themes or other scenery.
They were frequently described as whimsical, intensifying earlier Louis XIV pieces, though with more curves. Cupids, music motifs, and bouquets evoked further sentiments of romance and fancy.
Many elements, besides typical Rococo themes like asymmetry, ribbon, lace, and floral elements, abounded.
Favorite subjects included hanging baskets, broken shells, and vegetation such as curled endives/celery, twisted acanthus, and flowering scrolls.
Artisans liberally added these embellishments to interior woodwork, cornices, wainscotting, mantels, door and window casings, and panel and picture frames. Interestingly, furniture designs conformed to the lavish details of the interior woodwork, not vice versa.
Lavish ornamentation ensured no surface was left bare. Artists primarily used complicated bronze, ormolu, and carved fixtures.
Nearing the end of the Louis XV era, a desire for more symmetry and more straightforward design slowly grew, indicating the future Louis XVI trends to come.
Asian Influence In Louis XV Style
Contact and trade with China and Japan brought many stylistic influences to Europe. For example, monkies, Asian-style screens, jars, and fans, were wildly popular motifs for decor.
Fabrics and tapestries with Chinese themes were also highly sought after items and included in many designs.
French designers Westernized traditional subjects. The result was a new style called chinoiserie. They also adopted lacquering, which was, at the time, a Chinese furniture painting method.
Louis XV proper, on the other hand, incorporated purely French influence, primarily basing itself off of the Baroque period.
Artisans used a variety of woods in Louis XV furniture, ranging from the exotic to the inexpensive. Beech, mahogany, and cherry frames were common, as well as tulipwood, rosewood, maple, and amaranth.
Louis XV pieces showcase some of the most beautiful examples of marquetry in antique furniture history.
Large pieces of furniture also donned exquisitely crafted metal mounts and carved applique. Eye-catching colors and gilding covered cheaper woods
Veneer covered panels and doors on commodes and cabinets, and the grain ran at an angle.
Louis XV-style commodes are curved chests covered in intricate designs. They remain one of the essential unreturned pieces of furniture at this time.
The commodes en Tombeau, which has shorter feet and trended in the Baroque period, was still in use at this time.
A new model, dubbed the “Commode a Vantaux,” had drawers hidden behind two other doors. It stood slightly higher than a regular commode.
The versatility of commodes gave them homes in a variety of rooms for different purposes. They were found in foyers, used as nightstands, and possibly as dining room pieces.
Marquetry played a vital role in commode decoration. It often featured flowers and rocaille, a lively style of French decor centered around nature.
The Secretaire & Dressing Tables
During the reign of King Louis XV, artists and craftsmen developed several secretaire models. The romantic motifs and gilding accented these particular pieces beautifully.
There was the bureau plat and le bonheur du jour, a small desk with a hutch that debuted during this period. This design caught on so well that its use continued into 19th-century designs.
The popularity of transformation pieces spread, and more artisans attempted to modify existing articles to create attractive new designs.
Transformation commodes, the Secretaire a la Bourgogne (or a Transformation secretaire) and Secretaire En Pente, were all popular.
Lastly, the table de toilette or dressing table was a trendy piece of furniture for aristocratic ladies.
An interesting type of dressing table is the heart-shaped model. Usually, men used it for shaving or freshening themselves up throughout the day.
The Bergere chair was a trendy piece in Louis XV style. Bergere, which means shepherdess chair, is a fully-enclosed winged chair designed for comfortable lounging.
The wings of the Bergere chair protected the face of the person sitting in it from the heat a fire or window drafts.
Local woods such as beech, oak, or other fruit tree wood were for chair frames. Because of its expense, mahogany frames were rare.
Bergere chairs were objects of comfort and relaxation while also serving a purpose. The Sieges a la Reine, another new style of seating, had a much more decorative purpose.
The design, decorative elements, and the wood color conformed with the wall decor.
It is reminiscent of an early form of Gesamtkunstwerk; a German word generally used to describe where a work of
art makes use of as many other art forms as possible.
Other chairs that were popular during the reign of Louis XV were fauteuils (armchairs) and chaises that lacked armrests.
Interestingly, unlike its predecessor, Louis XV furniture was not intended for expansive, palatial spaces.
Instead, pieces were often for the informal and intimate salons created by the king and his mistresses Madame de Pompadour and Madame du Barry.
For example, the Fauteuil en Cabriolet, which was a light armchair, could easily be moved from one place to another.
Louis XV Today
The delicacy and grace of Louis XV and Rococo styles have given them a longevity that is unparalleled by many antique styles.
Artisans have copied this style in every century since it first debuted. It remains an essential aspect of many interior design styles.
Louis XV furniture is immensely versatile and famous, even in the modern era. Not only that, but the pieces also remain highly sought after. For example, Bergere chairs, Antique beds, tables, and commodes are all coveted in shabby chic design.
While antiques of any style are an excellent addition to any room, those with an equal love for detail and quality in 18th-century pieces will find these particular designs stand apart from the rest.