Tuesday, April 20, 2010

French Empire - Why the materials changed...

You learn a new thing every day! It's all about supply and demand - even 2 or 3 hundred years.

The fashion world, both clothes design and interior design have always been shaped by social influences and interestingly antiques are no exception. It was not simply that they woke up one day and decided that they preferred different timber and design.

There were obviously many well documented social influences on French Empire Furniture such as archaeological and architectural aspects of the Roman Empire, but today I learned something that is perhaps not so commonly known.

The Napoleonic era, French Empire is famous for simpler furniture designs and use of local materials such as brass as opposed to designs that came before it which were predominantly made up of foreign timbers and mounts.

One of the reasons for this? Many of the exotic timbers used for elaborate inlays, in English and French furniture design in the 18th century were imported from the West Indies. During the Napoleonic Wars, there was a battle between France and England to control the entrance to the English Shipping Channel. As a result, the waring countries went to great lengths to prevent enemy ships from passing through the channel and as such, the foreign timber supply became scarce.

This in turn affected furniture design and both France and England were forced to use brass and other local materials to decorate furniture instead of the exotic timbers and metals once used during the Louis periods.

These are some photos of French Empire furniture and their respective metalwork and complexity relative to an earlier piece.

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