The Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Francis I and Henri II) dominated this epoch. The Haute Epoch of the Middle Ages, the Romanesque era, and the Gothic era, with its essentially utilitarian furniture (beds, coffres de voyage, or travelling trunks, and wardrobes). Fourteenth-century furniture is very rare and is quite extraordinary, and the cabinetmaking work from the Renaissance era (sixteenth century) is remarkable.
This century was characterised by two distinct styles:
the Louis XIII (1610–1643)
and Louis XIV (1643–1715) styles. The Flemish and Italian influences played a significant role. The furniture cast off its purely utilitarian characteristics and placed greater importance on aesthetics. During the reign of Louis XIII, the lines became twisted; the style was heavy. The chest of drawers was invented during Louis XIV’s reign.
The eighteenth century was characterised by five distinct styles:
The Régence style (1715–1723), in which there was a trend for lightness and elegance.
The Louis XV style (1723–1744), also called the rococo or rocaille style. The furniture was multifunctional and often embellished with marquetry. The furniture is delicate.
The Transition style (1750–1770): an experimental style. Furniture with simple and well-proportioned lines (bureau à dos d’âne, or drop-leaf desk).
The Louis XVI style (1744–1789): the ensemble is restrained and understated. Pale colours remplaced the flamboyant painted decorations. The lines are rectilinear.
The Directoire style (1795–1799): this was a very brief period characterised by a purity of forms; the lit de repos à la grecque (Greek-inspired daybed) was very fashionable.
Like the eighteenth century, it comprised five successive and distinct styles.
The Empire style (1804–1815): inspired by antiquity, with impressive furniture; mahogany was widely used.
The Restoration style: during the reigns of Louis XVIII (1815–1824) and Charles X (1824–1830). This included a great variety of tables and seating.
The Louis-Philippe style (1830–1850): the furniture is solid, with no originality. The general appearance is severe and rigid.
The Napoleon III style (1852–1870): great emphasis was placed on decorative elements and ornamentation. The seats were embellished with fringes. Blackened wood replaced natural wood.
The twentieth century
Art Nouveau: from the end of the nineteenth century to the 1914–18 War, or modern style. Artists reacted to traditional styles. The colonnades disappeared and were replaced by curves inspired by nature (plants).
Art Déco furniture: from the 1914–18 War to the eve of the Second World War. Art Déco was a reaction to Art Nouveau. It was characterised by a return to tradition. It was an equivocal and charming style that aimed to reflect the insouciance of the moment.