Do you know your French desks? If you were to go shopping for an antique desk for yourself of with a client, could you hold your own on which style is which? If the answer is no, no worries. We are going to look at three desks from three consecutive periods of French decorative arts history and see what differentiates them by placing them into a bigger perspective of time.
Today we are going to have a little decorative arts refresher on French furniture. I thought a history lesson might be more fun and more memorable if we stick to one type of furniture—just to drive home the style differences and history that influenced their design. So today is “desk day.” We will compare three styles—Regency, Louis XV and Louis XVI desks/bureau plats, which come from three consecutive periods of French decorative history. Many people find it very confusing to distinguish between the Louis styles (and if you are a designer that would be a major faux pas), which is nothing that a good story with visuals can't cure. The broader context of each of these decorative styles will serve as a decorative arts glossary of terms used. Plan on some juicy backstories, decorative elements, creations and characteristics of each time, and a little gossip about the players/shenanigans of each era. Nobody ever said French history was boring…
This Bureau Plat (writing table) was sold in a Bonhams auction.
REGENCY aka REGENCE (1715-1723)
Philipe d' Orleans ruled with the young Louis XV until he became of age. He was very interested in the arts and sciences. This was a period of financial panics, speculation and inflation because Louis XIV had left the treasury bankrupt. Status/rank shifted to elevate the wealthy rather than the previous birthright-only measure.
A reaction against constraint, against all of the Louis XIV structure. Looseness of morals after the king's death (Louis XIV). Court life became more simple, less formal, more frivolous, romantic, soft. The Regency style is rather hard to define, as it retains certain features of the Louis XIV style and displays some of the new features of the Louis XV style. Consider it a transitional style.
The lines of the Louis XIV style persist but lose their rigidity. Symmetry still preserved. The scale of furniture lightened, stretchers began to disappear, lots of marquetry and cross banding, natural wood finishes, exotic woods, and japanning became popular.
ELEMENTS OF DECORATION
Pattern of checks with flowerets, espagnolettes, open work shells, cross-piece cabriole legs, short hinge-pins on furniture, on chairs the elbow rests flared out and set further back to accommodate hoop-petticoats, early Rococo style emerges.
CREATIONS DURING THIS TIME
Hinge-topped writing desks, grand-father clock, chest of drawers with cross-bow contour.
CHARACTERS of NOTE
The Wife: Françoise Marie de Bourbon was an illegitimate child of Louis XIV and Madame de Montespan (XIV's “official” mistress) and Louis XIV's youngest child. Follow me here for a second. She married the Philippe d'Orléans at age 14 and was mother of eight of his children including the next Duke of Orléans. What is interesting about this, you ask. Well, her husband, Philipe d' Orleans, TOOK POWER of the throne, which Louis XIV had sloppily promised in his will to both Philippe AND XIV's favorite son—the Duke of Maine (her brother). Phillipe had the will annulled the day after Louis XIV's death and took the throne.
Link to the rest of this article with embedded glossary of terms and two more French Decorative Eras, their desks and their stories637