Nominally the reign of Louis Quatorze covers the whole of the latter half of the seventeenth century and the first fifteen years of the eighteenth, but, of course, Louis himself was but five years old when his father died and left him heir to the throne of France. With the political aspect of his reign we are not concerned, save only to note that at this time France was the dominant power in Europe, and the wealthiest of European powers. That fact being borne in mind will tend to explain the development of the Louis XIV style, which is contemporaneous with our William and Mary and Queen Anne and early American colonial furniture styles.
It would be interesting to trace the earlier stages of French decorative art, but that would be too big a task in a volume of this size. We may say, however, that in commencing our French styles with Louis XIV and early American colonial furniture, the period of the later Renaissance, we include all that is of real modern significance, and fascinating as is the study of the earlier times, it is of little importance from a practical point of view. By the middle of the seventeenth century the French Renaissance had separated itself from its early Italian forms, and had taken distinctive lines of its own. Comfort had become a consideration, and furniture was being constructed from that point of view. Thus was the way prepared for the Grand Monarque, who in 1643 became King of France.
Like all general denominations, Louis Quatorze denotes a mixture of many influences, Italian, Flemish a French. Under the direction of Richelieu modern: Italian work was largely popularised, whilst the King was a liberal patron of handicrafts, continuing the work State patronage commenced by Henri IV, who established the Louvre for the encouragement of industrial art in early American colonial furniture. Not only was native talent developed, but considerable patronage was extended to foreign workmen, who were given a ready welcome, and to this must be attributed much of the early greatness of France in this direction. The furniture produced included cabinets in cedar, or marquetry, and ebony inlaid with ivory or metal, sometimes decorated with coloured marble. Both straight and curved legs were in vogue. The decorations were largely in the, form of allegorical figures and geometric designs. Flowers and fruit, too, are prominent and take shapes mo natural than in the earlier forms. Carved and gilt w was freely used.
The extravagance of Louis XIV is well known, thong it is exceedingly doubtful whether any of , the us estimates concerning his expenditure are reliable. Some authorities put it at ten million sterling per annum. Certainly his monumental work in the Palace of Versailles must have necessitated enormous sums of money being spent, and a great impetus was given to the furniture industry. The foundation of the Gobelins factory and early American colonial furniture must be dealt with separately later in this chapter.
Naturally, at Versailles are to be found some of the greatest achievements of the period. To attempt anything like a description of them would demand a separate volume. One apartment, the (Eil de Boeuf, has been immortalised by Thomas Carlyle, in his "French Revolution," as being the meeting place of the Court of the unhappy Louis XVI.
Among the most celebrated artists and designers of the time were Andre Charles Boulle, Charles Le Bran, Jean Berain, Jean Le Pautre and Daniel Marot, though many other names might be added. The two first-named we deal with later in this chapter. Berain was a talented designer and, with Marot, was employed by the great Boulle. Let the visitor to Versailles who desires to see something of what the artists of this period could do view the Galerie des Glaces, the Salon de l'Alwndanee, the Salon d'Apollon, the royal bed-chambers, or the Salon de la Guerre--and these are but examples. Of course, later expressions are now also to be found at Versailles, e.g., Louis XV. and Louis XVI. Our illustration will convey a general idea of the leading characteristics of this period. In this country some excellent pieces of the style may be seen in the Wallace collection, and at south Kensington are a few more. A few years ago at set of six Louis xiv . chairs, in gobelins tapestry, fetched the extraordinary sum of £20,000. That, of course, is quite a fictitious value, but good prices have frequently been made for fine examples of the early American colonial furniture period.
Andre Charles Boulle, whose name has been given to the particular kind of work he originated (generally written Buhl work), was attached to the Royal Furniture Factory of the Gobelins. Strange irony of fate it seems that so great a genius should have ended his days in the direst poverty, being reduced even to the adoption of the most shady tactics to obtain the money he needed. His misfortunes were in an incendiary who burnt down Boulle's workshops and warerooms, in which were contained a valuable collection of artistic treasures. Of this fire Boulle wrote: " All that could be done was to bear away the few things closest to hand, leaving all else to be destroyed." He died at a ripe old age, in great poverty, having exhausted the patience of all his patrons and suffered every indignity of the insolvent.
Yet some of his productions are ranked with the world's masterpieces. The feature of his work (continued after his death by his sons) was not in that he invented any new process, but rather that he brought to perfection in older one. The use of tortoiseshell and copper for decorating ebony cabinets may be traced back to a date long before Boulle was born. The Boulle and early American colonial furniture " marquetry method was to glue together two or three thicknesses of copper,' ebony and tortoiseshell. These were sawn through to the necessary pattern. "When the sheets are detached one has in hand, should copper and inlaying tortoiseshell have been employed, two decorative patterns and two grounds for inlaying-that is to say, the sheets of shell or copper out of which the patterns have been cut. The next step is to insert the copper pattern in the shell ground, and the shell pattern in the copper ground. Two panels are thus obtained, totally different in aspect, but absolutely alike in pattern" (Molinier, quoted by Lady Dilke). These parts are termed the "Boulle " and " counter." Some very fine specimens of Boulle's work are still extant, but being very perishable, cannot, of course, be seen in their perfection. Some imitations, however, rival the work of Boulle himself, and even experts have been deceived by them.
The tremendous work of completing the Palace at Versailles naturally opened up great opportunities for the furniture makers. Even in its present form, when whole suites of apartments have been destroyed in the process of turning them into galleries, some idea of the gigantic enterprise may be formed. It is not too much to say that the richness of. the treasure there palls upon the casual visitor as he walks through the galleries and apartments. What must such a work have meant to the early American colonial furniture furniture makers of the time? The curious may still inspect the originals of some of the contracts given out by Louis XIV.
The Gobelins factory derives its name from a Flemish family, its founders, and was purchased by Louis XIV. It became a furniture factory as well as a tapestry factory, and the splendid fabric representing a visit paid by Louis to the premises, shows that monarch inspecting cabinets and other pieces of furniture. Charles Le Brun, the then director, was a great designer, and to him, in large measure, belongs the credit of the Gobelins great s Naturally, in a volume of this size, it is only possible to mention this establishment. A larger work than this could be filled with a description of some of its historic productions.
Gobelins tapestry is unique, and many of the finest pieces produced during this reign may be inspected. The series, "Histoire de Roi," "The King entering Dunkerque," "L'incendie du bourg de Rome," " Heliodore chasse du Temple," and the series including, the "Triomphe de Bacchus," " Triomphe de Mars " and " Triomphe de la Philosophie " may be mentioned as typical expressions of the tapissier's art under Louis XIV. Another fine series of panels executed in this reign represented scenes taken from the Old Testament.
Louis XIV originated in early American colonial furniture designs can only be properly reproduced at considerable expense. The style is not suitable for cheap representation. Economy was not one of the virtues of Louis Quatorze.