Page C1.1 . 22 May 2002                     
ArchitectureWeek - Culture Department
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  • Historic French Style
  • Costs of "Dumb Growth"

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    Historic French Style

    by Betty Lou Phillips

    The 18th century is thought by some to be the most elegant era in European history, with French furniture from this period singled out for praise. Oblivious to the political and social turmoil that once surrounded it, French furniture radiates luxury and commands a loyal following among antique dealers, decorators, and collectors who appreciate fine craftsmanship and have the means to buy it.

    At the century's beginning, Louis XIV, le Roi Soleil (the Sun King), ruled France from the Palace of Versailles, built in the mid-17th century and awe-inspiring in its magnificence. In homage to this showhouse, the king's maître ébéniste (chief cabinetmaker) Andre-Charles Boulle (1642-1732) laboriously fashioned the finest woods into regal inlaid furniture, baroque in its elaborateness.

    As if exhibiting proof of the court's unassailable wealth and authority, intricate ivory, tortoise shell, and brass, or mother of pearl was veneered into marquetry patterns. Rich ormolu, or gilded bronze moldings and medallions, further defined elegance, offering bold standards for royal palaces throughout Europe while enticing the French aristocracy to mirror the king's extravagances.

    One needed a title, however, to appreciate the majesty of the tall, ostentatious chairs with upholstered, haughty-looking backs and stretchers reinforcing the legs. Because only the self-indulgent king was allowed to sit in a fauteuil, or armchair, there was an abundance of lowly stools and benches — all covered in regal fabrics: velvets, damasks, gold-threaded brocades, and embroidered silk.   >>>

    This article is excerpted from French Influences by Betty Lou Phillips, with permission of the publisher, Gibbs Smith.

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    ArchWeek Image

    Wrought-iron gates from 18th-century France open to a gilded iron console table with a marble top.
    Photo: © Emily Minton

    ArchWeek Image

    Madame de Pompadour's passion for pink extends its influence into the present.
    Photo: © Emily Minton


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