History of the chair - 18th century chairs

- Jul 24, 2018-

Informal, galante manners and a new half-reclining posture that replaced the former bolt-upright demeanor of court and aristocracy in the age of Louis XIV went hand-in-hand with new commodious seat furniture, developed in Paris about 1720 (illustration, right). The new Rococo chairs were upholstered à chassis, on removable frames secured by clips, so that changes from winter to summer furniture could be effected without recourse to the menuisier. Off-season upholstered frames were stored in the garde-meuble. These early Louis XV chairs have backs upholstered à la reine, with the back in a flat panel that was ordinarily placed squared to the wall, so that the top-rails' curves complemented those of the boiserie panels behind them.

In the illustration, the symmetrical cusped and scrolling seatrails that flow into stubby cabriole legs of these comfortable low armchairs (chauffeuses) have their direct origins in Chinese lacquer tables (not chairs).

American Armchair (1850-1863) made of Rosewood, rosewood veneer, pine, and chestnut. Attributed to John Henry Belter. Part of the Baltimore Museum of Art collection.

French fashions in chairs, as with everything else, radiated from Paris. From the late 1720s, fashionable "Louis XV" French chairs were constructed without stretchers, which interfered with the unified flow of curved seatrails into cabriole legs that generally ended in scroll feet. According to strict guild regulations in force until the Revolution, French chairmaking was the business of the menuisier alone, whose craft was conjoined with that of the upholsterer (huissier), both of whom specialized in seat-furniture-making in Paris. A range of specialised seats were developed and given fanciful names, of which the comfortable bergère ("shepherdess") is the most familiar. Walnut and beech were the characteristics woods employed; finishes were painted in clear light tones en suite with wall panelling, gilded (sometimes rechampi en blanc) or left in the natural color (á la capuchine), in which case walnut was the timber used. Fruitwoods were popular for chairmaking in the provinces, where the menuisier might also be called upon to provide carved and moulded boiseries for rooms. Lyon, Bordeaux and Liège all produced characteristic variations on Paris models between ca. 1725 and 1780.