The Development of Classic French Style

July 6, 2017



The Development of Classic French Style

When we think of early 19th century French style, we think smart. For smart indeed, was this period of smart, sharp design. A period of neoclassic design, the return to the classic, or, “with a high regard for classical antiquity”.

Historically speaking, the period finds its origins at a much earlier date, in 1765, with the move towards the great symbol of classic, ancient Greece and Rome, with inspiration especially derived from Roman copies of Hellenistic sculptures and particularly through engravings, for instance, in Wood’s The Ruins of Palmyra.

Even Greece was all-but-unvisited, seen as a rough backwater of the Ottoman Empire and dangerous to explore. This 18th century neoclassicism was really derived from the “idea” of the ancient classic period. The “classic” period is generally understood as the apex of Greek civilization circa 500 BC, with its emphasis on proportion and harmony.

Enormous interest was also generated for this smart neoclassical style by the beginnings of archaeology and the excavation of Greek vases in the south of Italy, which became models for new types of ceramics, i.e., Wedgwood’s jasperware in England (for which John Flaxman did many designs) and Sèvres porcelain in France. This very smart period of design is spread across a time line from 1765 until its decline, about 1830.

However, throughout this period of approximately 65 years, constant revivals of the style developed. From 1796, the chaos resulting from the French Revolution began to subside giving way to the equally, politically unstable period known as the Directoire. It was from this period of design, still with its emphasis on the classic that the French Empire style evolved. The period is known as Empire, due to its identification with the first French Empire and the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France (1795 – 1815).

The Napoleonic style was agrandiosised by symbols of Roman imperial power. The Empire style originated in the desire of Napoleon to revive the luxurious majesty of Imperial Rome, even Interiors, such as at Fontainebleau were redesigned to include classical columns, molding, and other Greek and Roman motifs.

All French art, architecture, painting, furniture, dress and design, including silver and porcelain, evolved into one of the most smart and stylish periods of designs ever seen, the style swept Europe with its influence seen from London to St Petersburg.

The style has never been surpasses, characterised by its understated simplicity, restraint and purity of form. It was on 16 June – 19 June 1815 that the Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte fell at Waterloo and the Bourbon monarchy was restored under Louis XVIII.

This period, known as the “Restauration” period, was for the most part closely aligned with the former Empire styles, formal, fine lined, elegant neoclassic. We see the final days of the classic French Empire style towards 1830, with the close of the reign of Louis XVIII

The appeal of this French Empire, classic style, has never subsided. It is constantly revisited to provide new inspiration to all aspects of design, both interiors and fashion.

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