Furniture 1680-1760

Furniture 1680-1760

George I secretaire. This piece is modelled as a walnut-veneered chest-on- chest, and its upper drawers – the fourth of which is a fold-down writing surface – are flanked by carvings of griffins, flowers, and fruit. c.1725. H:222cm (87^in).

Furniture 1680-1760

The desire for more comfortable living provided an ideal climate for a new look in furniture design and a move away from the restraints of classicism and into the realms of fantasy.

Furniture 1680-1760

George II armchair. The mahogany frame is carved in deep relief with shell motifs and acanthus leaves. The legs terminate in claw-and-ball feet. Made in the style of Giles Grendey. c.1740. H:101cm (39Wrn). Queen Anne walnut side chair. This piece (one of six) has a vase-shaped splat, cabriole legs with pad feet, and a drop-in seat with period-authentic upholstery. By John York of Warwickshire. c.1710. H:114cm (45in).

Furniture 1680-1760 Regence to Rococo

The new style had its origins in the refurbishment of the Palais Royal in Paris under Philippe, duc d’Orleans, regent to Louis XV from 1715 to 1723. Architect Gilles-Marie Oppenord introduced a look that was, essentially, curvaceous – a mass of swirling lines incorporating carvings of foliage and flowers in arrangements that were fanciful and deliberately asymmetrical.
A cohesive, unified design was key: chairs were upholstered in elegant silks, satins, and damasks that matched drapery; carved ornament on the furniture echoed motifs in wall panelling and doors; and colours were light and subtle, reflected in elaborately carved gilt-framed mirrors. Much of the design was influenced by women, whose desires to entertain at leisure inspired the creation of the drawing room, or salon. This is evident in the “feminine look” of the period.

Furniture 1680-1760

George II Mahogany card table. This table has a shaped apron with a carved shell motif and is raised on shell-carved cabriole legs with webbed pad feet. The foldover top hides a baize-lined interior with candle stands. c.1750. W:86cm (333Ain).

Furniture 1680-1760 Louis XV

The fashion for asymmetry was most extravagant during the reign of Louis XV (1715-74). Natural motifs – shells, flowers, and husks – were used in abundance, alongside arabesques, C-scrolls, and s-scrolls, in a bid to create the desired effect. This signalled the arrival of the genre pittoresque, later named the Rococo style. A derivation of the phrase rocaille coquille (rock and shell), the term refers to the rockwork and grotto-like features that became synonymous with the look.

Furniture 1680-1760

Giltwood fauteuil. One of a pair made by N. Blanchard in the reign of Louis XV, this chair has a characteristically curvaceous frame carved with floral, fruit, and foliate motifs. These are echoed in the petit-point reupholstery, c.1755. W:71cm (28in).

Furniture 1680-1760 Fashionable forms

Furniture tended to be smaller and more elegant than under Louis XIV, making maximum use of the curve motif in pieces such as tables and commodes with serpentine edges, chairs with undulating top rails, and the ubiquitous S-shaped cabriole leg. The prestigious marble-topped commode existed in a variety of styles, a favourite being the two- drawer version designed by Charles Cressent. The fauteuil – an upholstered, open-sided armchair – exemplified the desire for greater comfort, the frame adapted to accommodate fashionable hooped skirts. Close relations were the fully upholstered bergere and the fully upholstered sofa, or settee.
The new salons included tea tables, games tables, and sewing tables. Folded away at the edge of the room, such pieces were opened up as the need arose. Writing tables – primarily housed in the bedroom – were also popular. In addition to the men’s bureau plat, largely unchanged from Baroque forms, there were now smaller, more elegant writing desks for ladies.

Furniture 1680-1760

Louis XIV commode. The top, sides, drawer-fronts, and apron of this piece are decorated with floral, fruit, and foliage marquetry work and augmented with gilding and gilt-bronze mounts. Attributed to Thomas Hache. 1680-90. W:130.5cm (51%in).

Furniture 1680-1760 A taste for the exotic

Designs were executed in a range of techniques, and exotic woods such as amaranth, purplewood, and kingwood were used to create intricate marquetry inlays that became the height of fashion. Many pieces were finished with ormolu mounts; ostensibly applied to protect vulnerable corners, these were nevertheless exquisite in design.
In France a process for imitating – more economically – Chinese lacquerwork was developed by Martin Freres and called vernis Martin. In Venice lacca povera (poor man’s lacquer) had the same effect. The technique involved pasting coloured images on to furniture and applying several coats of varnish to achieve a glossy finish. In England Thomas Chippendale often used Chinese elements in his furniture designs.
A fashion for carved and painted wood was common in regions of Italy and Scandinavia, where native woods such as pine, beech, and lime were soft and, therefore, particularly suited to intricate carving. Where the wood was inferior in quality, pieces were also covered in gesso and gilt.

Furniture 1680-1760

Louis XV bureau plat. Veneered in tulipwood and purplewood, with elaborate satinwood marquetry of stylized shells and foliate scrolls, this piece is further enriched with similar motifs in the elaborate ormolu mounts. c.1745. W:193cm (76in).

Masters of the style

Most of the finest Rococo pieces originated in France – Charles Cressent’s two-drawer commode became a seminal design of the period, for example. Francois Cuvillies did much to introduce the style to Germany, creating exemplary interiors at the Munich Residenz for the Elector of Bavaria. In Italy the work of Pietro Piffetti epitomized the Rococo style, with intricate marquetry in exotic woods, ivory, and mother-of-pearl.

Furniture 1680-1760

Louis XV interior. The Louis XV Blue Room in Paris’s Musee Carnavalet is decorated and furnished in the lighter, airier Rococo style, which supplanted the heavier, more ornate Classicism popular during the reign of Louis XIV

From walnut to mahogany

The high-Rococo style that developed in France spread to much of Europe, but in some regions the flamboyance was simply too much. Instead, designers took their lead from developments in the Low Countries and England, where a more restrained version of the style prevailed.

Furniture 1680-1760

Swedish console table. Supporting a marble top, this table’s gilt wood frame is carved in deep relief, in Louis XV Rococo style, with a lion mask, dragons, flowers, and scrolling foliage. c.1760. W:99cm (39in).

An emphasis on wood

At the beginning of the 18th century walnut was the wood of choice throughout much of Europe.
It was a good, hard, indigenous wood, and it was suitable for carving. It grew rich in colour over time and had exciting figuring – particularly when selected with burrs or from root timbers. For these reasons, there was a tendency to rely on the wood itself for ornament. Although techniques such as marquetry and lacquerwork existed, these were an exception to the rule and prohibitively expensive to all but the wealthiest of patrons.

From 1725 onwards mahogany began to take the place of walnut, primarily in England, and later across the rest of Europe. Mahogany found favour in the early American colonies, though it was also common to find regional pieces produced in native timbers such as maple in New England, cherry in Connecticut, and walnut in the southern states.
The increased use of mahogany coincided with a blight on walnut trees in Europe, which made their wood rare and expensive, and the removal of import taxes in the 1730s, which significantly reduced the cost of importing mahogany from the West Indies. Because mahogany is a harder wood than walnut, it was a better choice for carving and piercing with intricate decoration. Its darker colour married well with gold, silver, or bronze ornament, and it was not long before the wood became associated with the more elaborate styles of french Rococo, Palladian, and Chippendale furniture.

Furniture 1680-1760

Louis XV mirror. The openwork giltwood frame of this archetypal French Rococo mirror comprises an elaborate concoction of scrolling foliage, trailing and interlaced flowers, and rocaille. c.1755. H:118cm (46hin).

Style and ornament

although the Rococo style elsewhere was more restrained than in french and Italian furniture, concessions were made, not least the cabriole leg, less exaggerated bombe forms, and broken or arched pediments. Qrnament was often limited to a single shell motif on the knee of a cabriole leg or a claw-and-ball foot. The occasional piece may also have been painted in pastel colours and gilt. Although marquetry was not as fashionable in England, it was still popular in the Low Countries, where designers created realistic floral displays.
In England, inlaid detail took the form of elegant feather- or crossbanding.

Furniture 1680-1760

Secretaire a abbatant. This piece has a marble top, ormolu banding with shell and foliate scrolls at the corners, and a tulipwood veneer with floral marquetry. Stamped Joseph. c.1760. H:114cm (45in).

Typical furniture

The first quarter of the century saw the emergence of the style referred to as Queen Anne. Its most recognizable form was the Queen Anne chair with its rounded back, vase-shaped back splat, and cabriole legs. This design was produced widely in England, the Low Countries, and the American colonies. The chair was most commonly made from solid walnut or oak with a walnut veneer.
Another form particular to these regions, and Germany, during the first half of the 1700s was the bureau cabinet – a two-door cupboard above a chest of drawers. Sometimes the cupboard doors were glazed for displaying ceramics. Some versions also housed a writing surface, a form known as a secretaire cabinet. A close relation, the chest-on- chest, was an architectural piece, often seen with a pediment and fluted pilasters.
Almost exclusive to the early American colonies was the combination of highboy and lowboy, which rivalled the prestige of the commode in France. Designed en suite for the bedroom, each had a similar form and ornament. With its many drawers, the highboy served as an essential storage piece, while the lowboy functioned both as a dressing table and a writing table.
As in France, the more sociable climate gave rise to the creation of a number of smaller pieces of furniture.
These were particularly suited to entertaining and included tea tables, which sometimes took the form of a round tilt-top table on a tripod base, and card tables, which satisfied an increasing fascination with gambling.

Furniture 1680-1760

Queen Anne dining chair. With a serpentine-crested top rail terminating in scrolled ears, a vasiform back splat, and shell carvings, this walnut-framed dining chair made in the Delaware Valley is typical of the American Queen Anne style. c.1760.

A touch of flair

Despite the prevailing climate of restraint, Thomas Chippendale’s designs stand out as having more exuberance. In his publication The Gentleman and Cabinet-Maker’s Director (1754), he presented designs for a host of furniture forms elaborately decorated in different styles. Alongside drawings for richly ornamented French pieces with scrolling ribbons and foliage, Chippendale also offered Chinese-inspired designs featuring pagoda surmounts, fretwork galleries, and bamboo-effect carving, as well as Gothic-inspired designs incorporating pointed arches and quatrefoils.

Furniture 1680-1760

Queen Anne dressing table. The mahogany carcase of this American piece houses four drawers flanked by chamfered and fluted corners. The cabriole legs have claw- and-ball feet. c.1750. W:87.5cm (34hin).


From the 1720s a style emerged in England that rejected the asymmetrical frivolity of contemporary French design. It was inspired by, and takes its name from, the Italian architect Andrea Palladio, whose own buildings were influenced by the mathematical precision of ancient Classical architecture.
The result was a formal style based on symmetry and geometric forms. Such buildings were furnished with massive furniture, often embellished with pediments, pilasters, and fielded panels.
Some designers made the occasional concession to the Rococo style by decorating pieces ornately with swirling ribbons and shell motifs, but the overall look remained symmetrical.
A leading exponent of the style was William Kent, who designed Holkham Hall in Norfolk.

Furniture 1680-1760

Table en chiffoniere. This tulipwood-veneered table has cabriole legs with ormolu mounts and sabots. The top and undershelf marquetry floral cartouches have banded purplewood borders. c.1755. H:66.5cm (26Win).

Furniture 1680-1760

William and Mary Highboy. Made in New England in flame birch and maple, this two-part highboy – the lower with a scalloped skirt – has ringed ball feet united by cockbeaded stretchers. c.1700. H:167.5cm (66in).