French Rococo Style
“If Baroque was melodrama, Rococo was light comedy.”1
If you love French style furniture, chances are you appreciate the graceful curves of the French Rococo Period: serpentine, ornamented French chests, commodes, writing desks, and most of all, the chairs.
Rococo style was a rejection of both the masculinity and the symmetry of Baroque. Vertical lines were avoided, angles softened, and the clean stability of Louis XIV chairs and their motifs would be turned over. Abandoning classical Roman and Greek ornament that had always seemed to dictate taste, designers created flowing, giddy, visually spectacular carving. France especially took these liberties—Chippendale’s version in England tended to be “more cautious.”2
Rococo elements and motifs included:
- • the cabochon, a raised oval-shaped ornament, like a plain cameo, with carved leaves surrounding it
- • acanthus leaves
- • the scallop shell, but with Rococo gaiety
- • gilding throughout
- • marquetry and painting
General shape and construction remained the same throughout the Rococo period until the clean, straight lines of Neo-Classical take over.
Chairs of The Regence Period
Before Louis XV was old enough to take the throne, there was a brief “Regence” period (1710-1730). It was transitional in nature, producing furniture that fell somewhere between the Baroque style of Louis XIV and the coming Rococo style that blossomed (while remaining somewhat restrained) under Louis XV.
Elements and motifs of the Regence featured:
- • lighter, more delicate construction
- • ormolu (faux gold) or marble accents
- • cabriole legs
- • curved backs
- • loose cushions
- • ornate feet
The body of the chairs was almost always crafted from walnut or oak, but beautifully veneered with walnut or rosewood.
The bergère first appeared in Paris during the Regence. It was an enclosed, upholstered armchair that had a curving tub-like shape, with a continuous back and arms. It was comfortable, intimate, and protected the sitter from drafts.
The frame, often made of gilded or painted beech, or walnut, mahogany, or fruitwood, was upholstered with padded arms and a loose cushion. It was a comfortable lounging chair, and would continue to grow in popularity—especially in America.
Louis XV Rococo Chairs
Louis XV style is nearly synonymous with Rococo style. There’s a sturdiness and a solidity to Louis XV chairs, but with generous helpings of serpentine curves: along the seat rails, the back, arms, and the legs. The fauteuils, or covered arm chairs, still have a broad, rectangular appearance to them, but the shape is romanced with curves, carving, and gilding. Midway through Louis XV’s reign, the opulent luxury of entirely gilded chairs grew a bit more subdued, sometimes replacing uniform gilding with a combination of white and gold paint.
The solidity of a Louis XV chair appealed greatly to English tastes, and much of the chairs across the Channel during the Georgian period show great similarity. The bergère grew more curvilinear during the Rococo period, as did side chairs, cane chairs and armchairs.
1. [Philp, Peter. (1974) Furniture of the World. New York, NY: Galahad Books.]↩