AN OVERVIEW ON FINE FURNITURE FROM THE PROVINCES OF FRANCE
During the reign of Louis XIV, the French developed a desire foe beautiful and luxurious decorative arts in their homes. Louis XIV inspired the creative talents of French artisans and cabinetmakers, and magnificent pieces were created for the royal palaces. Even those who lived outside of Paris and Versailles imitated the basic patterns set forth by Louis XIV and the Parisian aristocrats, although in most cases the results were simpler and had less ornamentation.
The home was considered the core of life in the provinces, whether the home was a simple farmhouse or the country chateau of wealthy nobility or bourgeoisie. The basic furnishings found in simple farmhouses are referred to as “mobilier rustique”, but this does not imply that the furniture was crudely made. Indeed this furniture resembled, in feeling, Early American or Shaker Furniture. The country chateaux located in various provinces reflected the tastes of the wealthy bourgeoise and aristocrats living outside the formalized realm of Paris and Versailles. These decorative arts are referred to as “art regional” and display the level of refinement of the American Federal period
“Art regional” furnishings varied in style from one province to another. More often than not cabinetmakers were confined to the woods available in their regions because transportation was a problem throughout the provinces during that time. Prior to the 18th century provincial furniture was primarily constructed of oak. During the 18th century provincial cabinetmakers chose to use walnut, chestnut, cherry, pear wood, apple wood, beech and ash depending on the regional availability. Regular application of a natural wax such as beeswax over a period of time enhanced the beauty of these woods.
BEAUTIFUL PROPORTIONS AND CHARMING DETAILS
The French used the same basic pieces of furniture throughout the country however due to variations in climate and the temperament of the people furniture varied from region to region. The furniture of Brittany reflected the people of that region, an austere seafaring people, and their furniture was study and “rustique”. Oak was their choice of wood. The people of Normandy possessed greater wealth and were more receptive to change and the influence of fashion. Their furniture has beautiful proportions and charming details. In Alsace, Burgundy and Lyonnais, the taste for furnishings was massive in scale, while in the middle of the provinces the pieces were simpler but had a certain grace. Of course the furniture of Paris and the surrounding province of Ile de France reflected the formal influence of the royal court. In Provence, the cabinetmakers displayed a more individualistic expression with clear cut moldings and delicate carvings of olive branches, grapes and sheaves of wheat among others representing regional products of the soil. The furniture made in the three grand Atlantic port cities of Saint-Malo, Nantes and Bordeaux was often made with beautiful imported woods from the various colonies. These cities were thriving and the cabinetmakers were often commissioned to make furniture using these woods on a grand scale often using mahogany before it became so fashionable during the reign of Louis XVI.
Eighteenth century French provincial furniture became increasingly popular in the United States throughout the 20th century as a result of World War I and World War II. There was a great appreciation for this less formal furniture by the men who served in Europe during this time. This furniture became increasingly popular throughout the 20th century. There are few remaining important examples and the finest pieces often command prices as high as the formal fine 18thc French furniture of Paris.
By Mary Helen McCoy ( Golden Keys Winner 2011 / 2012)