Web and Book design,
Copyright, Kellscraft Studio
(Return to Web Text-ures)
THE glory of the French Renaissance had begun to wane when Louis XIII. came to the throne in 1614, and by the time of his death it 1643 it had become hardly more than a tradition. It strongest period had been during that century which embraced the reigns of five sovereigns, Francis I., and II., and Henry II., III., and IV. This was from 1515 to 1610, and, of all monarchs who held the throne of France, Francis I., who sat upon it thirty-two years, did more for it in raising the standard of art than had been done by his predecessors in a century, though Henry II. and Henry IV. had made their reigns notable.
Rich, ambitious to have France as great in art as Italy, Francis was a liberal patron, and invited to Paris, the centre of all literature and art in France, painters, sculptors, and architects. Italy had difficulties to contend with from the fact that she was divided into many small principalities and dominated by many schools. Florence, Milan, Sienna, Naples, — each had their distinctive styles; but in France the court of Francis was the pivot upon which all the arts turned. He built that series of chateaus which remain among the wonders of the world, — Chambord, Chenonceau, and Fontainebleau. He left traces of his taste on mediæval Amboise, remodelled the Louvre, and finished the restoration of Blois which had been begun by Louis XII. The throes through which France has passed has swept away some of her choicest historic monuments, but Fontainebleau remains a true example of French Renaissance. With this fine old palace are connected some of the most critical moments of French history. In one of its rooms was signed the revocation of the Edict of Nantes; Condé was murdered here in the library, or Gallery of Diana. On the great curved staircase Napoleon bade adieu to what remained of the Old Guard before he went to Elba, and on a little table in one of the six rooms which might be called the suite of the First Empire, extending back of the gallery of Francis I. he signed his act of abdication.
Figure 71. Bedroom of Anne of Austria at Fontainebleau
The decorations of this palace are superb, the very flower of the French Renaissance. Oak, carved and gilded, wainscots the walls in many of the rooms, but in the chamber of Anne of Austria, shown in Figure 71, the wainscoting consists of carved panels framed in marbles, and above them carved figures stand out from the painted walls, which are divided by oak mouldings into sections, while a beautiful carved cornice of scallop-shells on a gold ground surrounds the room.
The French, as no other nation has ever done, set in a fitting shrine the beautiful furniture which they made; the decoration of walls, doors, ceilings, and fireplace always playing an important part in the whole scheme. The French "style," a word on which Lady Dilke strongly insists in her great work on "French Furniture of the XVIII Century," was unmistakably impressed on all they attempted. The woodwork was lighter and more openly carved than Italian work of the same period. Even when made by Italian workmen who swarmed to the French court under promise of abundant employment and rich emolument, the work was imbued with the French spirit and an elegance with which even Italy could not vie.
The noble appreciation Which had grown up in France was fostered by Louis XIV. when he came to the throne, not so much for art's sake as for his own aggrandizement, and to make his court the most elegant in the world. Louis contemned the style of elegance and luxury begun in an earlier reign, and artists of even superior merit were set to work to make beautiful the homes of those uncrowned queens on whom the "Grand Monarch" lavished such immense sums of money. Versailles was enriched, the lovely gardens planned by Le Notre, with their superb flower beds and fountains, the "green carpet" of turf down which the monarch loved to walk, were all made with enormous outlay of money.
The hotels and buildings at Versailles set apart for the service of the king and his attendants were numbered by hundreds. There were the royal stables, the new hotel of the Governor of Versailles, the green rooms of the actors who performed at the palace, the hotel of the keeper of the wardrobe, the hotel of the guardsmen, the English garden, the riding-school, the king's icehouses, the houses of the body-guard, and so on. Street after street was filled with these buildings, besides those devoted to falconry, boar-hunting, the kennels, the little stables, and those filled with shops, vegetable gardens, etc., and in addition that great habitation occupied by more than two thousand persons, with other buildings called "Louises" where the king assigned temporary or permanent lodgings. The great stables built in 1682 and Costing 3,000,000 francs are some of the few buildings left to show the magnificence of old Versailles. They were so ample and beautiful that under the direction of the great Louis himself they served sometimes as a ballroom, sometimes as a theatre, and more often as a circus for the princes.
Figure 72. Bed of Louis XIV at Versailles
There is a bound volume extant, bearing the name of Mansart, in which the cost of the palace is given at 153,000,000 francs. This was but the casket itself without any of its furnishings. Louis preferred to live in the open air, and the gardens were merely outdoor drawing-rooms, where people conversed and exchanged the compliments of the day. Round his person the king loved to group his retinue, and down the broad staircases of the gardens sixty ladies with hoopskirts measuring twenty-four feet in circumference could move easily. On the outskirts were a swarm of courtiers and servants in uniforms, costumes, and liveries as brilliant as the rainbow.
Consider the life of one of these courtiers under the reign of Louis XIV. Here is the routine of the Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Master of the Hounds: —
— "He never missed the king's rising or retiring, both changes of dress every day, the hunts and promenades likewise every day, for ten years in succession. Never sleeping away from the place where the king rested, not able to stay away all night, and yet obliged to dine away from court."
Even after the court etiquette became more stiff and precise, and the formal manners arranged by Louis and Madame de Maintenon were in daily practice, the smaller details of life remained as elegant as possible. Hoopskirts of such size as has been mentioned were too enormous for chairs, so a sort of stool without arms or back became a necessary article of furniture. One sofa, two armchairs, and nine stools were a proper proportion for a set to furnish a room, and these were stiffly set about the walls, leaving the middle of the room quite bare.
In Figure 72 is shown part of the bedroom of Louis XIV. at Versailles, with the elaborate decorations which were lavished on that palace, and the furniture which accompanied it. Tapestry-covered chairs and hangings of the richest embroidery were all in harmony with the splendid walls. The tall bronze girandoles were Cupids supporting branches of flowers in ormolu to hold candles. Over the doors were portraits or mirrors surmounted by carved and gilt figures with garlands of flowers. The decorated Boulle cabinet on the right is very different in its lines from those articles as seen in the succeeding reign, when everything assumed a lighter air. The curtains to the bed could completely enfold it, and to their sheltering depths the great Louis is said to have retired before removing his wig.
The chairs shown in Figure 73 are of this period, the one upon the right retaining its original covering, the woodwork being carved and gilt. The cane chair on the left is of walnut, and the one in the centre, carved and gilt, is a French adaptation of a Flemish design.
It is difficult to re-people one of these splendid rooms and consider a period when, as M. Taine says, "life was wholly operatic." The grandee lived in a state of luxury and grandeur. His trappings were as magnificent as he could make them, and his household was filled with military as well as civil appointments, approaching as nearly to that of the king as possible.
Figure 73. Chairs of the Period of Louis XIV
The king must have a stable, so at Versailles were 1,875 horses, 217 vehicles, and 1,458 men who were clothed in liveries costing 540,000 francs a year. This is but a single item in the great total considered under fifty or sixty heads. To wait on the king himself, 198 persons were required; some fetched his mall and balls; some combed his hair; others watched his dogs; and there were those who tied his necktie after it had been properly folded. Some there were whose sole business it was to stand in a corner which was not to be left empty.
The policy which prescribed the custom at court was all for ostentatious display. St. Simon says:
"He (Louis XIV.) was pleased to see a display of dress, table, equipages, buildings, and play; these afforded him opportunities for entering into conversation with people. The contagion had spread from the court into the provinces and to the armies, where people of any position were esteemed only according to their table and magnificence."
Louis had so dominated the whole court life that he had brought his courtiers to believe that the main thing in life for layman and churchman, and for women and men alike, was to be at all hours and in every place under the king's eye and within reach of his voice.
With all this army of personal attendants to feed, clothe, and shelter, the repairs to houses and furniture represented immense sums yearly, and many establishments were taken under royal patronage in order to command their products and to reduce the expenditures.
The history of French furniture is quite closely connected with the history of tapestry, for after a time it was used as a covering. Francis I., who appreciated the value of this textile as an ornament as well as a covering for his walls, and unwilling to buy all his pieces from the skilful looms of Flanders, started a factory in 1531 at Fontainebleau. In 1603 a new factory was started at Paris, under royal patronage, in the workshop of a family of dyers named Gobelin. The first workers were Flemish weavers who were brought over to teach the craft to Frenchmen. Louis XIV. protected the factory through the mediumship of that great financier, Colbert, who appointed Le Brun, the artist, director of the works. In 1667 the factory became the property of the Crown, and most artistic and elegant productions were made.
Not only in France did the Gobelins find patronage, but in England as well their work was in great demand. Evelyn writes in the last years of the reign of Charles II.:
— "Here I saw the new fabriq of French tapisstry; for designe, tendernesse of worke, and incomparable imitation of the best paintings beyond anything I ever beheld. Some pieces had Versailles, St. Germain's, and other palaces of the French King, with huntings, figures, and landskips, exotiq fowls, and all to the life rarely don."
The golden age of Louis XIV. saw also the golden age of tapestry, for it was during his reign that the proud and royal factory at Aubusson was at its highest estate. The tapestries sent out from this factory were not mere imitations as close as possible of painted pictures. The limitations of the process were ever considered, and the number of gradations in every tint was limited so that the dangers of unequal fading reached their lowest point. The beautiful borders which surrounded the central picture were designed and executed with the same care that was bestowed on the centre, and formed a part of the whole that could ill be spared.
Beauvais, Louis XVI. Gobelin, Louis XVI.
Aubusson, Louis XIV.
Figure 74. Tapestry Furniture
The tapestries worked late in the seventeenth century and early in the eighteenth, before the spirit of commercialism had been suffered to encroach on what up to that time had been carefully fostered art work, were all examples of great beauty and merit. In 1694, Louis having lost interest in the manufactory, and Colbert and Le Brun being dead, the works at the Gobelins, factories declined, and they became financially embarrassed. Still the great name was in high esteem, and its more than national reputation was retained. The splendid works which had been sent out from the loom, "The Triumph of Alexander," "The History of the King," "The Elements," and "The Seasons," were no longer in demand. Fontaine's fables and "The Adventures of Don Quixote" took the place of the more dignified designs, and at last sets of chairbacks and sofa covers were woven where previously historic subjects of heroic size had been demanded. Every year there were "Chancelleries" made, — series of hangings adorned with the royal arms, which the king gave to his chancellors.
"The Adventures of Don Quixote" consisted of a set of from twenty to twenty-eight pieces, and so pleased the public taste that sets were being continually woven from 1723 till the times of the Revolution. They were varied by the different colours of the background, and also by having different borders, some of them designed by artists like Lemaire the younger, and of great beauty. By 1736 the manufactory once more received assistance and patronage from the Crown, and famous old models were renewed, and two new sets, from "The Story of Esther," and "The Story of Medea and Jason," were designed. About the middle of the century came the fatal desire to copy paintings as they came from the hand of the artist, and the traditions which had governed the labor of the tapestry-worker for centuries were thrown aside. In vain the workmen protested: good taste and the principles of decoration were sacrificed, and the artist triumphed. The only check to the artist's exactions was the immense cost of production, for the painter was totally ignorant of the practical difficulties which had to be overcome in carrying out his designs; and as the tapestry-workers were paid by the piece they could no longer calculate or limit the cost of execution.
The Beauvais tapestries were long granted superior excellence in flower forms, trees, etc., and for figures also, and they held to the styles in which they excelled. But the Gobelins after 1740 no longer did work which was not fashionable and profitable. In 1755 Boucher, the well-known artist, was appointed director of the Gobelins, and, like his predecessors, believed in simulating, as far as possible the painter's art. There is tragedy in the history of the devoted band of workers who, ill-paid, and not sufficiently recognized, laboured at the looms and in the dye-house to carry out the artist's ideas. One of them Quimiset, a chemist of undoubted ability, committed suicide. Neilson and Audran were both ruined financially; and yet these servants of the crown were not allowed to leave Paris to better their fortunes.
Figure 75. Commodes of the Time of Louis XV
The Gobelins began to produce tapestry for furniture only during the last half of the eighteenth century. This work was undertaken in hopes of financial profit, for the competition of woven and embroidered stuffs from England, as well as the novelty of English paper-hangings, had crippled them excessively. The very first pieces made were for four chairs and a sofa, in 1748. These furniture tapestries became immediately popular. Screens, seat, sofa and chair backs, showing scenes, figures, ribbon-work, and garlands brought up the failing fortune of Gobelin and made, Beauvais wealthy. From this latter factory came those coverings, with designs after Boucher, set in wooden frames of the richest carving and gilt.
The cost of these works was as great as brocade and velvet, and crowded out the embroiderers, who in turn aimed, with the means at their command, to rival the efforts of the tapestry-workers. Then came that most sumptuous combination of painting with embroidery, and in 1743 the Duc de Luynes describes a new set of furniture for the queen's bedroom.
"It is of white gros de Tours, embroidered and painted, and is quite complete, consisting of the bed, its hangings, the fauteuils, and curtains."
During the Revolution, in 1793, a bonfire was made in the courtyard of the Gobelin factory, and a set of hangings with designs of "The Visit of Louis XIV. to the Gobelins," several portieres, and a set of "Chancelleries" were burned. On another visit the cartoons of Raphael were destroyed, those of "Esther" and "Medea" thrown out, and everything with a tendency toward aristocracy discarded.
The terms "Beauvais," Aubusson," etc., do not give their names to any particular style of tapestry. The various factories wove according to their requirements, and used silk, woolen, silver and gold thread as the design called for it. In Figure 74 are given examples of work from these famous establishments. The Louis XIV. screen is a silk panel, the pattern being Flora, surrounded by Cupids and wreaths and garlands of flowers. The design is by Berain, and was made at the Gobelins; the frame is richly carved and gilt.
The Louis XVI. chair is covered with Beauvais tapestry — baskets of flowers and scrolls. The lovely tints are hardly faded, or they have so faded in harmony that it resembles the changing hues of mother-of-pearl. The wooden frame is carved and gilded, a fit setting for the beautiful tapestry. The sofa and chair are but two of a set, the other pieces being nine more chairs. These are of the Louis XIV. period and are covered with Aubusson tapestry, — crimson peonies on a pale-green ground. The bow leg and carved knees are similar to those shown in Figure 73, and, like the one on the right in that illustration are gilded. At a recent sale held in Paris, when the great collection of Madame Lelong was dispersed, the prices obtained for these old tapestries, whether wall-coverings or on furniture, were absolutely astonishing. A screen with four panels of Beauvais tapestry illustrating La Fontaine's fables brought $3,700. One seat, of carved and gilded wood, covered with a piece of Beauvais, brought $2,000, and four chairs in carved and gilded wood with Beauvais tapestry coverings brought $41,000. These prices, while sensational, give some idea of the esteem in which these antiques are held. The tapestry covered pieces shown belong to the Waring Galleries, London.
Figure 76. Garderobe Period of Louis XV
The best-known name of any one man who worked in furniture during the splendid reign of Louis XIV. was of André-Charles Boulle, b. 1642, d. 1732. The superb marquetry work he made, composed of brass, ivory, tortoise-shell, gold, and a choice selection of woods from India, Brazil, and other tropical countries, took the fancy of the king by reason of its sumptuous nature. Boulle was given an apartment in the Louvre and for his great master the celebrated ébéniste composed his choicest work. A cabinet of this work can be seen in Figure 72 to the right of the bed.
In 1672 Louis XIV. had made Boulle engraver-in-ordinary of the royal seals. The patent conferring this appointment calls Boulle "architect, painter, carver in mosaic, artist in cabinet work, chaser, inlayer, and designer of figures." The most important works of Boulle which records show were at Versailles, like those he executed for foreign princes, have disappeared. His workshops and studios were of vast extent; he employed many workmen, and consulted for his models a priceless collections of drawings, medals, and gems, comprising drawings by Raphæl, and that "manuscript journal kept by Rubens during his travels in Italy and elsewhere, which contained his notes and studies in painting and sculpture, copiously illustrated by pen-and-ink sketches."
In "French Furniture of the XVIII Century," by Lady Dilke, this priceless collection belonging to Boulle is described at length, and also the immense loss to which this worker was subjected when, in 1720, his entire warehouses and shops were burned down. Boulle was an old man at this time, and for the rest of his life ill-fortune followed him, and he died wretchedly poor, leaving nothing but debts which for years he had been forced to put off by every variety of makeshift. His four sons, one of whom bore his father's name, never accomplished works of such elegance and solidity as those of their father. They, too, had endless misfortune, were ejected from the apartment in the Louvre which had descended to them from their father, and died, as he did, in poverty and misery.
Yet the splendid and showy style of furniture to which Boulle gave his name remained in fashion and was made during the whole of the eighteenth century. After the death of the younger Boulles, pupils who had studied with their father and themselves carried on the work, and of course there were imitators as well. Boulle did not invent this style of decoration, for ebony cabinets ornamented with tortoise-shell and copper were known in France long before Boulle was born. He simply perfected the method of making it. Nor did he confine himself to this particular style of marquetry, for he made works, mentioned in his catalogue, of wood inlaid with other woods of various colours and ornamented with bronze mounts.
Under the Regency, fashions changed, not only in manners and clothes, but even in furniture and belongings as well, though this latter change came slowly. The Duc d'Orleans and his daughter, the Duchesse de Berri, conducted entertainments of so scandalous a nature that even the French public was horrified; and gaming, which under Louis XIV. had risen to prodigious extremes, became more furious still, and, possessing all classes of society, spread ruin everywhere. The use of looking-glasses for ornaments had become very much the vogue during the period of Louis XIV.'s reign. They were introduced into walls opposite windows, and in places where reflection would carry out the idea of windows. The court beauties, both male and female, had the walls of their bathrooms lined with them, and the frames in which they were set were lavishly carved and gilded.
Figure 77. Bedroom of Marie Antoinette at the Little Trianon
While Boulle's is associated with the reign of Louis XIV., with the Regency the name of Charles Cressent rose to eminence. His work was much like that of Boulle in character, but he gradually gave more importance to the mounts of metal as a means of ornament, and used less marquetry. He not only used floral forms for these metal decorations, but modelled beautiful little groups of Cupids or Loves with garlands and roses, and these ornaments were applied directly to the rosewood frames of wardrobe or cabinet, whichever was chosen for such embellishment. Nor was he content with such charming subjects only, for he modelled children swinging a monkey, or monkeys swinging themselves, or dancing a tight rope, and invested even these grotesques with style and charm.
With the reign of Louis XV. even more sumptuous surroundings were desired. At Fontainebleau the luxury was unparalleled, and when the king held a reception, at which there were both cards and dancing, the spectacle, according to records left in the copious memoirs of the times, was one of sumptuous elegance.
Four or five hundred guests surrounded the tables where cards and cavagnole were played. Hanging from the ceiling painted with Cupids garlanded with flowers, were many blazing chandeliers, their brilliancy reflected a thousand times in the tall mirrors. Every. thing was flooded with light, — the painted walls, the rich gilding, the diamonds sparkling on white necks and in the hair of the women, whose dresses gleamed with gold, silver, pearls, and artificial flowers and fruits, all in the most gorgeous hues. The men were almost as gay. Their hair was powdered, curled, and dressed. Their coats of sky-blue, rose, peach, pearl-or puce-colored satin, velvet, or brocade, were embroidered with silks and gold, and ornamented with ruffles and cravats of lace. The dress of a man, with his jewelled sword, shoulder-knots with diamond tags, and buckles of brilliants on shoe and knee, might have cost a small fortune. Gold and silver thread made stiff and costly, stuffs already rich in themselves, while the money lavished on lace had no limit.
When a princess of France married it was no uncommon thing for the laces on her bed-spreads and linens to reach the sum of $100,000. The frills on her personal linen added $25,000 more. The ruffle on a handkerchief was cheap at $50, and a laced nightcap might easily double that. All this elaboration of elegance had fitting surroundings, and the case was worthy of its contents.
Like his predecessor, Louis XV, lavished vast sums on buildings, and Madame de Pompadour, an uncrowned queen, spent millions more. The Hotel d' Evreux, begun in 1718, was many years later finished under her personal direction. She had the virtue of being a liberal patron of the arts and an encourager of artistic merit wherever she found it. Her taste, her sincere love for art, enabled her at least to secure works of absolute perfection, and during the twenty years of her reign it was mainly her fostering guidance which developed so many of the applied arts. She not only assumed the direction of work at her chateaus and hotels, but she encouraged the manufactory of the beautiful porcelain of Sèvres; she assisted engravers, and essayed to learn the art herself; and by taste, natural and acquired, she was looked upon by the group of artists of her time as a final court of appeal in all critical matters.
Figure 78. Chairs and Table of Louis XVI Style
Her successors were no less extravagant, but they lacked her exquisite and . artistic judgment, which amounted almost to genius. It was during this period of Louis XV. that the evolution of chests of drawers, writing-tables, and cabinets — that is chests upon trestle-work — was accomplished. The ornament changed constantly, but the form of the articles remained much the same. The changes wrought in Paris affected the country slowly, and provincial artists working at the period of Louis XV. might have been using the models that had been popular in a previous reign. In Figure 75 are depicted rosewood commodes with curved fronts and ends, handsomely decorated with ormulu work in leaves and scrolls. A French clock of the period, with ormolu mounts, stands on the marble top of one, and on the other is one of black and gold lacquer, with very choice water-gilt mounts.
In this period the names of the Caffieri, father and two sons, who were workers in metal, became famous. They executed bronze mounts for furniture like those on the commodes shown in Figure 75, a style which they may be said to have created and by their genius rendered popular. The mounting on these pieces is very simple, and takes the subservient place that ornament always should. But in some of the work executed by the Caffieri the wood became merely the vehicle on which a wealth of ornament was hung. They made not only mounts for furniture, but girandoles, branch-lights, mounts for vases and clocks, and chandeliers — working in bronze and silver as well as in brass. This taste for metal mounts was carried to an extreme, even pieces of richly carved furniture being further ornamented with chiselled brass. It is an item of interest that the monument to General Montgomery which is placed on that side of St. Paul's Chapel, New York city, which faces Broadway, should have been designed and executed by Caffieri in Paris in 1777. The General was buried first in Quebec, and afterward removed to New York by act of Congress.
In Figure 76 is given what is called a garderobe, that is wardrobe, with a basket of flowers at the top, this and the two bunches of flowers at the tops of the doors being in ormolu.
Even as early as the middle of the previous century there had been imitators of the splendid lacquer-work of the Orient. By 1723 the three Martin Brothers, Julien, Robert, and Simon-Etienne, had become quite famous for their use of a transparent varnish, which, as "master painters and varnishers," they had perfected in their business. They pushed their trade, and by 1748 were under national protection, so popular had their wares become. In 1742 they perfected a certain green varnish which was immensely popular, and for which they had many orders, some of them from the king himself. They never excelled as painters, but the beauty of this famous green ground, powdered with gold, is very charming. Very little of this famous work remains, a few fire-screens and some splendid coaches, with some small boxes for snuff or patches, are all that exist. But in these small pieces like the boxes, which were considered worthy of gold and jewelled mounts, we can see this famous work to the best advantage. There were ribbings, stripings, waves, and flecks which gleam wonderfully through the varnish. Sometimes there are a few flowers or a Cupid scattered on the surface, but usually, when the green ground was employed, no decoration was considered necessary. With the death of Robert Martin in 1765 the skill necessary to continue this work was lost, and this charming style of decoration dropped back merely to a trade, and "Vernis-Martin" became hardly more than a name.
Figure 79. Encoignure. Period of Louis XVI
Among the other great workers of this period were Oeben, whose marquetry in coloured woods was of extreme elegance, and Riesener, who began to execute his beautiful pieces of furniture under Louis XV. in what is known as his earlier style, but who finally created the straight-legged types of Louis XVI. style with which his name became associated. In the work which he did for Marie Antoinette at the Little Trianon in 1777, the pure Louis XVI. style is carried out. The earlier pieces, delivered as early as 1771, still betray the influence of a previous period.
In Figure 77 is shown the bedroom of Marie Antoinette at the Little Trianon. Here we see the later style set by Riesener, with the straight carved legs, the woodwork being painted and gilded. The silk factories at Lyons were no longer as well patronized as they had been, and to revive interest in them new furniture was ordered for the queen, to be upholstered in brocade, and with curtains and hangings to match. Everything in these rooms breathes of dainty elegance, — the carvings of the mantelpiece, the walls decorated with garlands of flowers and Cupids, even the metal mounts, chiselled wreaths and rosettes, were wrought with the beauty and finish of goldsmith's work. In the small chair by the bedside is seen a style with gilt framework and embroidered cushions, a kind of covering which was always in demand.
In 1770 two coaches were sent to Vienna for Marie Antoinette. The work 0f the embroiderer was selected to embellish their interiors, and the description of them is given by Bachaumont —
"They were two berlins, much larger than usual, but yet not so large as those of the king. One is lined with rose velvet and the Four Seasons are embroidered on the largest cushions, with all the attributes of a festival. The other is lined with blue velvet, and on the cushions of this are worked the Four Elements. There is not a touch of painting about them, but the work of the artist is so perfect and finished that each one is a complete work of art."
The name of the embroider was Treaumau, and so celebrated did the beauty of these royal cushions make him that he received large orders, the most important being one from Madam de Berri for a vis-à-vis. The two berlins for Marie Antoinette were placed on exhibition before they were sent to her, and constituted an event of the day.
Figure 80. Bed of Josephine at Fontainebleau
The three pieces shown in Figure 78 are pure types of Louis XVI. style. They are at the Cooper Institute, New York. The chair on the right has its original embroidered cover, and the straight carved leg so much in evidence. All three pieces are entirely gilt wherever the woodwork shows. The top of the table is marble. The chair to the left is very prettily carved with a torch and bow and arrows, according to the conceit of the times, when everything was to be joyous and gay, all suffering and sorrow being resolutely thrust out of sight. Rose, blue, and gold were the colours affected, nothing sombre being allowed. The whole life was careless and without responsibility. The letters of the day, Saint-Beuve, Comte de Tilly, Duc de Lauzun, and Madam d' Oberkirk, draw graphic pictures of the life of pleasure. The Duc de Lauzun says that one of his mother's lackeys, who could read and write tolerably well, was made his tutor.
"They gave me the most fashionable teachers besides, but Roche (the tutor) was not qualified to arrange their lessons, nor to qualify me to benefit by them. I was, moreover, like all the children of my age and station, dressed in the handsomest clothes to go out, and naked and dying with hunger in the house."
This was not through unkindness, but because of dissipation and carelessness, all the time and attention being given elsewhere. Even in the last days of the ancient regime little boys had their hair powdered and dressed in ringlets and curls. They wore a sword, carried a chapeau under the arm, wore laces and frills, and coats with cuffs heavy with gold lace. The small girls were their mothers in miniature. At six one of them would present her hand for a little dandy to kiss, her little figure would be squeezed into a stiff corset, her huge hoopskirt supported a skirt of brocade enwreathed with garlands of flowers. On her head was a structure of false curls, puffs, knots, and ribbons, held on by pins and topped with plumes; and if she was pale they would put rouge on her face. By force of habit and instruction she bore herself like a mature woman. Her most important instructor was the dancing-master, her never-ending study deportment.
In the eighteenth century drawing-room women were queens. They prescribed the law and fashion in all things. There was no situation, however, delicate, that they did not save through tact and politeness. This was the time when first Watteau, and later Lancret and Fragonard, painted the Fêtes galantes, when pretty picnics and dancing in a woody dell were great diversions. It was an idealized life of the brilliant world of France which early in the eighteenth century Watteau painted. Scattered all through the land were sumptuous dwellings of the rich, upon which fortunes were lavished, Beaus and belles alike dressed themselves à la Watteau. He became the lover's poet, a painter of an ideal pastoral which hardly existed, but to which his hand gave beauty and value. This was one side. On the other, besides heavy taxation, poor crops, flood, famine, and the devastation of war, there was always the pest. This terrible contagious fever, with the smallpox, was a scourge to the people. Hundreds fell victims to these twin plagues, for the usual treatment was copious bleeding.
But the court, while it might suffer at times from sickness and death, never allowed itself to think of such things. It amused itself with balls and masques, plays, and even with blindman's-buff. The gardens at Versailles were always in gala dress, and at night musicians played among the trees, and thousands of lights sparkled among the flowers. Fifty years later they played at simplicity too, these great ladies and elegant cavaliers, laying aside the silks and brocades of which a surfeit had wearied them, and wearing picturesque gowns of simple material and cut. Marie Antoinette herself set the example in her retreat at Little Trianon, with the muslin gown and fichu crowned with a straw hat, in which she ran across the gardens. Beneath all this elegance, amiability, and extravagance the Revolution seethed and boiled and finally overran and destroyed. Till almost the very end extravagance increased, and in Figure 79 is shown an encoignure, or corner cupboard with commode below, and cabinet above, of the most elaborate inlaid work, with very rich ormolu mounts. This work is by David de Luneville, and is a marvel of the intricacy of inlaying, many different woods being used in that jumble of ornament which forms the decoration of the door in the cabinet. At each intersection of the lattice work inlay is a little rosette. The divisions of the lower part have an edging of satin-wood, which in the centre panel is made more ornate with an inlay of ebony. This piece is at the Waring Galleries, London.
Figure 81. Bed of Napoleon at Grand Trianon
The new conditions in France wrought changes in every detail of life. Simplicity, so called, was becoming the watchword, and once more antique models were sought for forms and decorations. Under the Empire the style was much less graceful, the lines coarser, and the elaboration of ornament heavy. Could anything be less pleasing than Josephine's bed at Fontainebleau, shown in Figure 80? It is one of the few unsightly things in that beautiful palace, where are now gathered so many works of art. The bedstead is covered with heavy chiselled ornaments in brass, and surmounted by a canopy held on pillars. This canopy is partly of carved wood and partly of embroidered satin. There are strings of gold beads hanging from this satin, and in addition heavy satin curtains very richly embroidered. These are edged with a long and clumsy fringe. The whole room is in keeping with the bed, for the floor is covered with a carpet bearing the imperial insignia all over it, and the hangings on the walls have countless spots in lieu of a pattern. It was at Fontainebleau that the sentence of divorce was passed on Josephine, and it seems possible that the sleepless nights which the poor lady endured must have been rendered more miserable by the unlovely character of her surroundings.
It is with pleasure that one turns to Figure 81, showing the bed of the great Emperor himself, at Grand Trianon, Versailles. It is a good example of the best Empire work, and is mahogany ornamented with ormolu mounts in classic style.
It was now the fashion to decry the furniture or costumes which had prevailed during the latter half of the eighteenth century, and to seek the Athenian models for gowns and furniture. Nor were these models used in their simple shapes, but transformed into quite other guise by the touch of French hands. Marquetry was no longer considered good taste, and David the painter was largely responsible for much of the theatrical effect which was noted both in costume and household belongings. After the fall of the monarchy, sales had been held, and what had not been destroyed had been sold. It was now necessary to fill again the palaces that had been denuded, and Percier, the architect, and Joseph Desmalter, the cabinet-maker, were the men chosen to do it. Desmalter is responsible for the use of mahogany commodes embellished with bronze and gilt like those which flank the bed in Figure 81. After the expedition to Egypt, Sphynx figures were introduced in bronze or brass to uphold tables and as arms for chairs. These, however, did not become popular, and soon were replaced by classic heads.
Figure 82. Room at Fontainebleau with Historic Table
In Figure 82 is shown a room in Fontainebleau furnished in Empire style. The imperial N may be seen on the corners of the console tables and on the commode. The walls are covered with damask woven in geometric forms, and the rooms once so light and brilliant with their dainty arabesques and flowers, Cupids and birds on the ceilings, are now dark and severe. The splendid chandelier of Venetian glass is the sole reminder of a previous reign. The only piece of furniture in the room which is absolutely plain is the small mahogany table in the foreground. Upon this Napoleon signed his abdication. In one of the rooms adjoining the leave-taking between Josephine and Napoleon occurred, after which he went to St. Cloud and she to Malmaison.
The commode shows as well as anything the marked change which took place in the styles under the Empire. The graceful curves of front and sides are gone; the feet are stumpy, and so short that the pleasing proportion between the parts is quite lost. The constant repetition of the laurel-wreath on chairs. walls, mantelpieces and furniture is very monotonous, and we miss the graceful curves of the acanthus and celery leaves.
In Figure 83 is a mahogany reading and writing desk combined. The brass ornaments are beautifully chiselled, and, though some are lost, enough remain to show what a splendid piece of furniture it once was. They partake, in their delicacy, of the metal work of the previous century, particularly the escutcheons and the groups of flowers and musical instruments which are on the tops of the side pillars. The desk top lifts up, and inside there are pigeon-holes and drawers finished in satin-wood. The hole in the rail above the doors is not a key-hole, but in it fits a handle by which the whole upper part of the desk is raised on an iron rod so as to suit the height of whoever uses it. This piece is at the Museum of the Cooper Institute. The rage for furniture in Empire style was not confined to France alone, but crossed the channel to England, where it became even less attractive, and was also used by our own cabinet- makers, as has been shown in previous chapters.
The changes in the styles of French furniture, like those which took place in England in the same century (the eighteenth), were not any more definitely marked. One period overlapped another, certain characteristics were retained and put to new uses, so that a perfect style was arrived at only after years of growth.
With the name of Louis XIV. is associated the furniture of Boulle, with its wealth of wonderful inlay, The metal mount in its most correct and elegant form marks the period of Louis XV. The reign of Louis XVI. and Marie Antoinette shows the change from the graceful curves of leg and construction lines to straight lines and less generous proportions, while the use of the metal mount is brought to the greatest extreme. The beauty of form taken from leaf and shell, wrought in metal and placed on the lines of fine construction which had marked the epoch of Louis XV., ran wild under the workers in the next era, and the fancy for overlaying with costly ornament blinded the eyes to the poor shapes employed, which were inspired by a search among classic forms. Even the severest form may become vulgar when overloaded with ornament, and with the reign of Louis XV. passed the production of some of the finest furniture ever made. What was poor under Louis XVI. became poorer yet under the Napoleonic era, and the men employed, instead of drawing from the choice models which still remained, still farther debased what in previous times had risen to the dignity of high art.
Figure 83. Empire Reading and Writing Desk