The French are known for l’art de vivre – the art of living. From fine wine and architecture to arts and Napoleon III antique furniture, they appreciate only the finest things in life!
When it comes to antique furniture and other exclusive decorative arts, France is the only country where politics had always highly affected their styles. From the period of the monarchy to the French Revolution, the Second Empire and beyond, the country’s complex political history was always reflected in the decorative arts made during each era. The styles that were appreciated and preferred by the emperors, bourgeoisie and the elite class became the dominant trends.
Napoleon III Antique Furniture and Interiors
As Napoleon III came to power in 1848 after overthrowing Louis-Philippe, France witnessed the revitalization of all things Napoleon, including styles of furniture and interior.
High-quality craftsmanship, lavishness and immense attention to details are some of the major features of furniture and architecture during the Napoleon III era. When it comes to the style of furniture, it was influenced from different historical periods when the French king had enjoyed uncontested and absolute power over the country. For example, the seashell patterns and light colour pallets were taken from the antique Louis XV Rococo of the 18th century.
There were also some outside influences – Ottomans (large upholstered stools) were one of the popular seating options in France during the Napoleon III era and they were manufactured in large quantities. In addition to this, African, Asian and Native American cultures influenced the decorative imagery.
Decoration and ornamentation was given importance and techniques used during the 17th and 18th centuries were updated. Most often, the structure of sofas and chairs was either heavily decorated with shell, pearl, copper etc, or entirely hidden by the upholstery.
Natural wood largely disappeared and was replaced by darker woods. Mahogany, ebony, rosewood and other exotic timbers were largely used. Inlaid and veneered wood also gained prominence.
To enhance the aesthetic value and opulence, the furniture pieces were inlaid with pearls or porcelain. This gave the furniture made during this era an airier and lighter aesthetic in comparison with the serious Empire style. Boulle work also saw a revival with the finest highly detailed creations applied to contemporary furniture designs.
Angled sofa, upholstered footstool and unique style of chairs called ‘Le confident’ and ‘Le indiscret’ were first made. The chairs were specially designed for intimate conversations between two and three people simultaneously.
Cabinets, chests and buffets were influenced by the previous dominant styles from the reigns of King Henry II and French Renaissance. They were usually made from oak and walnut tree wood, were massive and decorated with carved angels, frontons, mascarons, chimeras and cartouches.
Empress Eugenie preferred the style of Louis XVI. The rooms that were in her use at various palaces, including the Tuileries Palace, were decorated in Louis XVI style, also called French neo-classicism.
In interior designing, the Second Empire was known for imposing designs and luxurious decorative elements. Caryatids and atlantes were popular and considered synonymous with opulence and luxury. Mirrors, fireplace mantels, chandeliers, sconces and candelabras were the focal points of a room. Ornamental sculptor making, metalwork, and cabinet making gained recognition during the period of Napoleon III.
To conclude, the Napoleon III antique style can be defined with the word ‘abundance’. There was an abundance of materials, decoration, and inspiration that was a mix of styles of the 17th and 18th centuries. Renaissance-Henri II style dining rooms, Louis XV and XVI style living rooms and Andre-Charles Boulle style metal and tortoiseshell marquetry furniture are the most popular features of the era of Napoleon III.
A wonderful collection of Napoleon III antique furniture and decorative items is available at Nicholas Wells Antiques. Click here to view the entire collection.