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French Decorative Designers (c.1640-1792)
Throughout the approximate period 1640-1792, the course taken by decorative art in France was strongly influenced by designers of ornament who were usually appointed by the King and employed by the royal manufactories. Few of them were solely ornemanistes; most were celebrated in other branches of the arts. A great many of them published books or examples of their style of design for the benefit of other artists and craftsmen. (See also: Greatest Visual Artists 1000-1850.)
At the very beginning of the 17th century the most outstanding of the early French Baroque artists and designers was the painter Simon Vouet, who spent fifteen years in Italy and was influenced by Paolo Veronese (1528-1588), Raphael (1483-1520), and Caravaggio (1573-1610). Vouet helped to decorate the Palais du Luxembourg, and he provided numerous cartoons for the tapestry-workers of the Louvre, where he was given apartments. He completed a vast amount of work, much of it with the help of his pupils, among whom Charles Le Brun (1619-90) was the most outstanding. Vouet it was - no doubt influenced by the intricate stucco scrollwork of the first Fontainebleau School - who was responsible for the fashion for floral decoration which is always greatly in evidence thereafter. He appears to have influenced the sculptor and designer Jean Le Pautre (1618-82), who worked at Versailles during the time of the Baroque architect and court favourite Louis Le Vau (1612-70). Le Pautre's designs are those of a sculptor, richly charged - 'overcharged' might be a better description - with classical figures, usually in high relief, and nude or almost so, in conjunction with scrolling acanthus, and floral and foliate garlands. These can be well seen in his designs for chimney-pieces. One is described as 'in the Italian manner, invented and engraved by I. Le Paultre, 1665', and another, even richer, flanked by Corinthian columns and surmounted by an allegorical group and a centrally disposed painting, as 'a la romaine'. These, sold in Paris by Mariette, a print-dealer of the rue Saint-Jacques, testify to the continuing Italian influence inherited from the 16th century. Le Pautre's designs for stucco ceilings were no less elaborate, and those of complete rooms might almost be described as the apotheosis of the Grand Manner. Those for cabinets on ornately carved gilt stands match his more permanent architectural work, and he is generally notable for an air of massiveness and height. Although it is impossible to relate any existing interiors to his actual published designs, his influence must have made a very considerable contribution to the middle Louis Quatorze style. Other members of the same family also functioned as designers, notably the architect Pierre Le Pautre (16591744), whose designs, far less ornate, foreshadowed the style of the Regency.
A precocious student of Simon Vouet, Charles Le Brun had completed a history painting for Cardinal Richelieu when he was only 15. Influenced by Poussin during a visit to Italy, he returned to France to receive several commissions, including decorative work at the Chateau of Vaux-le-Vicomte for Nicolas Fouquet (1615-80), Superintendent of Finances in France (1653-61). In addition, Cardinal Mazarin presented Le Brun to Anne of Austria, while Louis XIV entrusted him with the task of decorating the Galerie d'Apollon at the Louvre. He was also tasked with painting parts of the Palace of Versailles Palace, including the ceiling in the Galerie des Glaces (Hall of Mirrors). He was also responsible for the mural painting in the Salon de Paix, next door, as well as the Salon de la Guerre. Appointed chief painter to the King, he worked at Saint-Germain, Marly and Sceaux, and as director of the Gobelins tapestry factory he produced a variety of tapestry art and designed furniture, jewellery and wrought-ironwork, watching over every detail of production. A central figure in French Baroque architecture as well as painting, Le Brun became a virtual dictator of applied art in France, excelling as designer, decorator and administrator. Made director of the French Academy, he used it to elevate the arts of painting and sculpture in importance, and also founded a French Academy in Rome along with the Prix de Rome. Le Brun continued to dominate the field of decorative art in France until the death of Colbert, his political patron, in 1683. Colbert's successor, the Marquis de Louvois (1641-1691), replaced Le Brun by Pierre Mignard (1612-95), but because of the difficulties of the time the royal manufactories were already in decline. To the foundations laid by Le Brun much of the pre-eminence of French art throughout the succeeding centuries is due.
Daniel Marot, son of Jean Marot, was a Huguenot who left France after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes to become architect to William III of England. Both father and son were prolific designers, but Daniel is by far the better known. He seems to have specialized in the design of beds, the most important item of household furniture in the 17th century. Either with posts (lit a la francaise) surmounted by a canopy, or with a canopy supported only at the back (lit a la duchesse), his designs called for tasselled drapes and valances of the utmost richness which inspired the ornament known as lambrequins, much used as a painted motif on faience during the last years of the 17th century. His canopies were surmounted at each corner by plumes. Some of Marot's chimney-piece designs for the first time provided space for the display of porcelain and faience vases, which he may have done for the English Queen Mary. Chimney-pieces very similar in design are to be found at Hampton Court, where the Queen had introduced the fashion for Oriental porcelain and European tin-enamelled ware (Delft) into England. In his designs for panels Marot made use of strapwork in conjunction with foliage, especially acanthus scrolls, floral garlands, and foliate swags, as well as grotesques, some with popular allegorical subjects. Apart from interior fittings, he designed console tables, cabinets, mirror-frames, lighting appliances, and even such small items as snuff-boxes. He also specialized in the design of elaborately ornamented cases for long-case clocks, termed regulateurs in France.
The final period of the Louis Quatorze style is perhaps best represented by Jean Berain the Elder, who worked with his brother Claude (d.1726) now rarely mentioned. He attracted the attention of Le Brun by whom he was trained, working on the Galerie d'Apollon at the Louvre, and he was appointed dessinateur de la chambre et du cabinet du Roi in 1674, with an apartment in the Louvre. Berain designed not only interiors but settings for all kinds of royal functions, especially fetes and theatrical performances. He is notable for a kind of grotesque ornament especially characteristic of the last decades of the King's reign, which influenced the course taken by later rococo artists. His designs, which have a great deal in common with the decoration of Urbino maiolica after the middle of the 16th century, include cupids hammering a flaming heart on an anvil, long-horned rams, masks (mascarons), monkeys and sphinxes.
Sphinxes, incidentally, were an especially popular kind of ornament during the early years of the 18th century, appearing in a variety of forms, including the decorative chenets (andirons). Many were recognizable portraits of Court beauties. Portrait sphinxes, no doubt derived from this source, became a favourite with the English porcelain factories of Bow and Chelsea especially at mid century, Kitty Clive and Peg Woffington, the English actresses, being among those represented.
In other Berain designs we find Chinese figures in tall conical hats beneath a scrolled canopy with a distinctly Chinese flavour, the curving eaves taken from the Chinese pagoda. These Chinese motifs were a consequence of the King's interest in Chinese art, evinced in the Trianon de Porcelaine at Versailles, and the Oriental decoration of the chateau of Meudon belonging to the Dauphin who died in 1711. The fashion received notable impetus from an embassy from the King of Siam in 1688.
Berain's designs were widely employed by craftsmen of all kinds. Much of the decoration of Andre-Charles Boulle's typical brass and tortoiseshell marquetry is fairly obviously inspired by this source, and the faience of Moustiers employed Berain's grotesques for a notable series of dishes. Boulle (1642-1732) was also a designer in his own right who worked not only for the King but for the more prominent of the financiers at the end of the 17th century, such as Antoine Crozat (1655-1738) and Samuel Bernard (1651-1739). His skill as a bronzeworker and designer is especially evident in his chandeliers and sconces, some of which foreshadow rococo asymmetry. His private collection included renaissance drawings by Raphael, wax maquettes, a quantity of engraving, and many other works of art.
Robert de Cotte, pupil and brother-in-law of Jules Hardouin-Mansart (1646-1708), was an ornemaniste as well as an architect who eventually became premier architecte du Roi and director of the manufactures du Roi about 1699. He exerted considerable influence on the development of the Regency style, and probably collaborated with Berain and Boulle.
Belonging to the same period was a skilled designer, Claude Gillot, noted for theatrical decoration and his scenes from the Italian Comedy, who employed the popular satyrs, grotesques, and monkeys. Claude Audran, conservateur at the Luxembourg, was a painter who decorated many chateaux and designed tapestries with the motifs which Berain had made familiar. He also designed the noted Gobelins tapestry series of the 'History of Don Quixote' and the 'History of Jason' (after De Troy), both in collaboration with Pierre Francois Cozette, later director of the most important department of the Gobelins tapestry manufacture.
Gillot and Audran are joined by their connexion with Jean-Antoine Watteau, son of a master-tiler of Valenciennes, who was both a painter and an influential designer. He was a pupil of Gillot's in 1704, attracting the notice of Audran a little later, in 1709. Watteau's painting has today tended to overshadow his work and influence as a designer, but his arabesques (the common term for the form taken by grotesques in the 18th century) inspired the ebeniste and sculptor Charles Cressent (16851768), and he also developed the popular monkeys. Indeed, the singeries of the painter Jean-Baptiste Marie Huet (1745-1811) at Chantilly were at one time attributed to the hand of Watteau. His characteristic subjects of gallantry were widely popular, being copied on to the porcelain of Meissen in the 1740s.
Watteau later gained the patronage of Antoine Crozat, the financier, and his reputation at the time was so high that seven hundred of his paintings were engraved on the initiative of Jean de Jullienne, one of his friends, as the Recueil Jullienne. A giant of French painting, he died in the arms of his friend, Gersaint, the art-dealer. Watteau's designs have an air of fantasy almost without parallel at that time, considerably influencing the course of design throughout the first half of the 18th century, and although his early work as a designer faintly echoes that of Berain, it is an obvious and important source of the rococo phase. The designs of Gillot on the other hand have greater affinities with the 17th century.
The painter Jean-Baptiste Oudry was perhaps most influential in the field of the decorative arts as director first of the Beauvais tapestry-looms and then of the Gobelins manufactory, a position which he held during the reign of Louis Quinze. His death almost marked the end of Colbert's organization of the arts, although royal patronage continued virtually undiminished. As a painter Oudry was especially attracted to animals and the chase, and his work was an extremely popular source for decoration of all kinds. His style is not unlike that of Desportes with whom he is sometimes confused. Desportes was a slightly earlier painter of similar subjects who helped to decorate many of the principal chateaux of the time, including Versailles and Marly, and Chantilly which belonged to the Prince de Conde.
Francois Lemoyne also inspired some of the decorative art of his day. One of his principal works was the decoration of the Salon d'Hercule at Versailles, and many of his paintings were engraved by Laurent Cars, engraver of Watteau's fetes galantes.
With Gilles-Marie Oppenord the tendency towards rococo became more marked. Oppenord was architect to the Regent and influenced Cressent's furniture-designs. He owes something to Francesco Borromini (1590-1667), an early baroque architect whose influence can be seen in some of Oppenord's designs. Oppenord is now probably most widely known for his wrought-ironwork designs, then becoming fashionable for balconies and staircases in addition to the gates which had always been popular for the entrances to chateaux. He also turned his attention to console tables on supports of wrought and cast iron and other items of iron furniture, including even a prie-Dieu, which seem to have been intended for gardens and exterior courts rather than for interiors.
Nicolas Pineau was a pupil both of Mansart and of the architect, Germain Boffrand (1667-1754). He appears to have been at first a menuisier principally concerned with the carving of boiseries, especially at the Court of St Petersburg where he stayed for ten years. In Russia he functioned also as an architect and a designer of interiors, and on his return to Paris in 1726 he became a leading designer. His work was less emphatically asymmetrical than that of some of his contemporaries, and earned the approbation of the architect, J.F. Blondel, who was one of the early critics of rococo extravagances.
Jacques Verberckt from Antwerp was a menuisier and carver who worked principally on boiseries, especially in collaboration with the architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel (1698-1782), in a rococo style less pronounced than that of Meissonnier.
Despite early examples of asymmetry already mentioned the especial characteristics of the developed rococo style did not become obvious before the time of Juste-Aurele Meissonnier who was born in Turin. He worked principally as a goldsmith and ornemaniste, becoming orfevre du Roi (goldsmith to the King) in 1726. Two years later he was appointed dessinateur du cabinet du Roi in succession to Jean Berain the Younger (1678-1726), but little or nothing of his work in this capacity is extant. Indeed hardly anything can be attributed to Meissonnier apart from his design books, but these were probably the greatest single influence on the development of rococo. A good deal of his work was done for foreign nobility, and included clock-cases, fighting fixtures, console tables and other furniture, boiseries, and - somewhat naturally - silver jewellery of all kinds. Among his silver designs some shell salts were an obvious inspiration for several of the porcelain factories, including Chelsea and Bow in the 1750s. Other silver designs with marine subjects on a base of asymmetrical scrollwork influenced porcelain-making in Saxony and England, although little such work was done at either Vincennes or Sevres, where the kind of porcelain employed was hardly suited to it and gilt-bronze bases were substituted. Meissonnier's table-supports and seat-furniture were almost as elaborately ornate as his silver. Even more advanced were the designs of an engraver and goldsmith, P.E. Babel, whose vignettes and ornamental work were popular.
More or less contemporary with Meissonnier, and working in a style which resembles his, but without his emphasis on asymmetry, were the brothers Slodtz. Two of them worked for the King as designers and sculptors: Antoine Sebastien (1695-1754) was a dessinateur de la chambre du Roi, a position in which he was succeeded by his brother Paul Ambroise (1702-58). In 1739 they were associated with the engraver Charles-Nicolas Cochin le jeune (1714-90), who assisted them to design settings for Court fetes and state ceremonies. The Slodtz were, according to one present-day critic, good at designing festivals, but they really let themselves go at funerals.
Jean-Jacques Bachelier, painter and ornemaniste and a follower of Jean Chardin, helped to decorate chateaux and hotels before he was appointed director of studios at the Vincennes porcelain factory. Encouraged by Madame de Pompadour he became Art Director in 1751 and was largely responsible for the development of the Sevres style in porcelain decoration, introducing the use of biscuit (i.e. unglazed) porcelain for figure-making.
The influence at mid century of Francois Boucher, son of a designer of embroidery, can hardly be over-estimated. One of the most versatile painters of his day, he could turn his hand to scenes of gallantry, mythological subjects, chinoiserie, animal paintings, religious subjects, theatre scenery, porcelain-designing, tapestry cartoons, and many other things. Although he is best known today for his female nudes, these in fact formed a comparatively small part of his work. In 1743 a List of the Best Painters refers to him as a practitioner of history painting living in the rue Grenelle Saint-Honore, opposite the rue des Deux-Ecrus, pupil of Lemoyne, excelling also at landscapes, grotesques and ornament in the manner of Watteau, and equally skilled in painting flowers, fruit, animals, architecture, and subjects of gallantry and fashion.
Boucher, who was elected to the Academy in 1734, was an intimate of Meissonnier's, who stood godfather to his son in 1736. In this year a series of engravings by Simon Francois Ravenet (17061774) and Jacques-Philippe Le Bas (1707-83), from Boucher's Cris de Paris, was published, and later became a source of inspiration to the Meissen porcelain factory for a series of figures. In 1736, at the suggestion of the director, Oudry, he submitted designs for a new series of tapestries illustrating 'Don Quixote' to Gobelins, which were the forerunners of many more. By 1737 his paintings were selling as quickly as they were taken from the easel, both cabinet pictures and those intended for more permanent positions, such as overdoors. He had been accumulating a collection of Chinese porcelain perhaps from about 1740 when he began a series of chinoiseries, 'The Five Senses, representing various Chinese pastimes', followed by the 'Suite de Figures Chinoises', which inspired porcelain figures and groups at Meissen later copied in England. This phase of Boucher's work seems to have started when he engraved a design for Gersaint's catalogue, the latter specializing in Oriental art of all kinds.
Boucher was on the staff of the Paris Opera, designing costumes and scenery for the ballet, Indes galantes, in 1743. Less well known are his designs for the fashionable gilt-bronze mounts and for interiors. His friendship with Madame de Pompadour (born Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, mistress of Louis XV from 1745 to her death in 1764) and his designs for the Sevres porcelain factory followed, the marquise obtaining for him the position of premier peintre du Roi. By 1754 Boucher had turned to pastorals, setting a new fashion, and in the following year he became director of Gobelins in succession to Oudry. His connection with Vincennes began just before 1754 when Bachelier asked for his assistance, and he provided sketches for the modellers Fernex and Suzanne. Boucher's influence diminished after the death of his friend and patron, Madame de Pompadour, in 1764, although his reputation survived his lifetime. He died at his easel in 1770.
The more extravagant aspects of rococo art never found universal favour. An early critic was Jacques Francois Blondel whose Architecture Francaise in eight volumes published 1752-1756, and the Cours d'Architecture Civile (1771-7), were both influential. His designs for boiseries while not departing from the prevailing spirit of the time are, in conformity with his published views, much less extravagant than a good deal of the work of his contemporaries. Of some plates based on the work of Pineau he says that they are 'varied without being too much in the taste of the time'.
The chimney-pieces of Charles Etienne Briseux who published a book on the art of building country-houses in 1743, with plates engraved by Babel, and who employed Pineau for some of his commissions, are notable for the large space allowed for mirrors. By this time chimney-piece mirrors were complementing the pier-glasses opposite, adding an air of spaciousness to the room. Babel engraved other interior designs notably for Boffrand, and he was much influenced by Meissonnier, but how much his work of this kind was original is problematical.
A designer of chinoiseries who requires mention is Jean Pillement, painter, water-colourist, and engraver, who worked for the Prince of Liechtenstein and Stanislas Leczinski. In England his characteristic chinoiseries inspired the decoration of porcelain, enamels, and objets d'art. As early as 1737 he apologizes for giving a few examples of asymmetrical designs, explaining that they are merely a concession to the taste of the moment, and referring to the absurd mixtures of shells, dragons, reeds, palms, and foliage then coming into vogue. Less well known is his landscape painting in the manner of Boucher.
The origins of neoclassical art are less easy to trace. In its earlier manifestations it was first termed 'le style grec' and later 'le style etrusque', neither of which is particularly appropriate. It is true that some early Greek motifs occur, especially the wave-pattern used as a frieze ornament, and that some Roman motifs were derived from Etruscan art of a kind which, in its turn, had been borrowed from Greek art, but so little was known of the Etruscans that all kinds of things were claimed for them to which they were not strictly entitled. When Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95), for instance, started his factory in Staffordshire to manufacture neoclassical pottery he called it 'Etruria'. There was a revival of this 'Etrusco-mania' in the 19th century, but, in general, neoclassical sources were usually Roman art, and provincial and bourgeois Roman art at that, from Pompeii and not from the capital.
Perhaps the most important single influence was the publication of the compilation of the Comte de Caylus which began in 1752. Its influence on the decorative arts can hardly be measured, although it was a culminating point of a series of attacks on the more extravagant aspects of rococo which Caylus had started almost twenty years before. The catalogue of Sir William Hamilton's collection was published in a sumptuously printed and engraved edition in 1766-7. Sir William (1730-1803), was Ambassador to the Court of Naples from 1764 to 1800, and is popularly known as the husband of Nelson's mistress, Emma.
The numerous engraved designs, as well as the writings, of Charles-Nicolas Cochin le jeune (1714-90) contributed to the same end, and the influence of Piranesi, acquainted both with Clerisseau and Robert Adam, was certainly not negligible.
The nature of contemporary attacks on rococo
may be illustrated by a quotation from Cochin published in the Mercure
de France in 1754. He begins by entreating goldsmiths, bronze workers
and woodcarvers who decorate apartments to observe certain laws dictated
by reason. He writes
The early lack of outstanding designers in the new style is to be explained by the fact that those of established reputation were already being employed by the King, whose attachment to rococo was unswerving. Cochin states that an obscure and little-known artist, Louis Le Lorraine, was the first to use such typical Louis Seize motifs as swags, urns, and plaited cable ornament, and the part played by the German ebenistes, beginning with the Franco-German cabinet-maker Jean-Francois Oeben (1721-63), must not be overlooked. At Sevres the models for biscuit figures of Etienne-Maurice Falconet (1716-91) were by no means uninfluenced by the new movement, although his work for the porcelain factory owes something to the designs of Boucher. Falconet's 'Leda and the Swan' of about 1760, and the maquette for 'Cupid and Psyche', appeared in the Salon of 1761. The bases are plain and no longer the rockwork associated with Vincennes and early Sevres figures. Of his earlier 'Baigneuse' and his 'Nymphe qui sort du Bain', both before 1760, Falconet remarked that they were more noble, and in a general taste less subject to the changes of fashion, which implies a concession to the prevailing changes. In the making of the popular vases for chimney-piece decoration or for pot-pourri the Louis Seize style was well marked by 1765, and in 1772 a vast table-decoration in biscuit reproduced one of the ceiling-paintings of the Galerie d'Apollon in the Louvre, executed in the 17th century.
Jacques-Germain Soufflot, architect of the Pantheon, who, with Cochin, accompanied the Marquis de Marigny (1727-81) on his Italian journey, had studied at the Academy in Rome in his youth. At first a rococo designer hardly distinguishable from the remainder, he was nevertheless dissatisfied with the style, and as early as 1744 had expatiated on the 'wise and rich simplicity of the Greeks and Romans'. The second journey to Italy was his road to Damascus, and on his return he vigorously promoted the return to classicism, becoming one of the greatest architects in the process.
See also the great Baroque architect: Jules Hardouin Mansart (1646-1708).
Looking at the new developments across the Channel inspired by the Adam Brothers, where Robert Adam was appointed architect to George III in 1762, the conclusion is difficult to escape that revived classicism in England was not without influence in France. The rococo style had never found more than a precarious foothold in England, principally because Palladianism was so strongly entrenched. The porcelain factories and the Huguenot silversmiths adopted it, and Horace Walpole made a light-hearted excursion into revived Gothic at Strawberry Hill, but the mainstream merged almost insensibly from Palladian classicism into the Adam version. Both Charles-Louis Clerisseau (1721-1820) and Jean-Simon Rousseau de la Rottiere (17471820) drew something from Adam designs.
Associated with Rottiere was the sculptor Claude Michel, called Clodion (1738-1814), while another sculptor to influence the new movement, patronized by Caylus, was Edme Bouchardon (1698-1762), who returned from Italy in 1733, and whose work inspired porcelain models at Meissen and elsewhere. (For more supporters of the new style, see Neoclassical Sculptors.)
Despite a gesture towards the early phases of the new style by Madame de Pompadour in her private apartments, the fashion appealed considerably more to some of the up-to-date tax-collectors and financiers, such as Grimod de la Reyniere (1758-1837) whose salon was designed by Clerisseau, perhaps as early as 1769, and whose mansion in what is now the rue Boissy d'Anglas eventually became the American Embassy. Jean Demosthene Dugourc (1749-1825), who was attached to the Garde-Meuble, exerted considerable influence on later neo-classical design, while Jean-Charles de la Fosse (1721-90) who began as a rococo designer turned increasingly to a more classical style.
A painter whose work merits attention is Hubert Robert, one of Fragonard's intimates. Later Designer of the King's Gardens and Keeper of the Royal Collection, he fell under the influence of Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717-68) in Italy, whither he journeyed in 1754 with an introduction to Pannini. His choice of subject, usually architectural, earned him the soubriquet of Robert des Ruines, and his success as a decorator of salons was probably due to the interest of Diderot, who much admired his work. His friendship with Madame Geoffrin helped the youthful Robert to establish himself.
It is worth remembering that French decorative art during the century and a half with which we are concerned involved many different types of art and was the work of many. Every craftsman at the tapestry looms, in the porcelain factories, in the workshops of the goldsmiths, the ebenistes, and the menuisiers, every painter, engraver, and sculptor who added something new which was taken up elsewhere, contributed to the complete picture and helped to create the greatest display of interior decoration and design in the history of art. The painters here mentioned were also designers of one kind or another, or painters of walls and ceilings in addition to easel-pictures, who noticeably influenced general trends. But we should not overlook those others, who confining themselves rather more to easel-pictures, often influenced the decorative arts by acting as a source of inspiration. The same is to be said of sculptors. As a general rule sculptors were rather more intimately connected with the decorative arts than painters.
Louis Quatorze, Louis Quinze, and Marie-Antoinette as patrons of the arts played influential roles in the evolution of styles during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Louis Quinze with the help of Madame de Pompadour and to some extent of Madame du Barry, but they were at the apex of the pyramid which broadened out towards its base to take in the nobility, the tax-collectors and the financiers of Paris, and then the provinces in direct proportion to their distance from the capital and the state of communications with it.
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