French furniture has always been admired for its beauty and detail and North Americans associate anything that has a tufted back, cabriole leg or serpentine front with the term French Provincial. These are good examples:
What we call “provincial”originates with the French “Provençal”but Provençal style is much simpler, a country look . It was designed to be functional as well as artistic; it may be polished wood or painted; it has simple carved motifs such as wheat, shells or baskets of fruit and the wood will have the patina of age and dirt that antique dealers prize. These ladder back chairs with the woven seats are classic examples of this:
Most of our ideas about what French furniture looks like comes from either the Louis XV period ( 1723-1774) which favoured elaborate details, carvings and curved legs and shapes. This bombé chest from 1900 has been made in this style:
Or, the Louis XVI period ( 1774-1793) which introduced straightened or tapered legs with grooves or fluting. The motifs for the decoration were more restrained and classical such as ribbons or wreathes, as seen in this reproduction chair.
The cabriole leg originated in the 18th century and was seen on all European furniture of the time period. A lot of Louis XV furniture has the classic snail’s foot on the bottom of the leg as in this picture:
The bombé chest is another creation of the time period. These have curved wood fronts and sides with hand painted surfaces. They were often decorated with oriental designs ( dragons), flowers or shells. Marble tops were also added in this period. They are very popular right now and are featured in a lot of design photos.
The bergère chair (meaning shepherdess) is also something that never loses its appeal. This beautiful Bellangé chair from the White House is a classic example: A bergère has an upholstered back, sides and arm rests. The seat has a loose tailored cushion and the rest is exposed wood. A fauteuil is a similar chair without the upholstered sides and arm rests.
My own adventures in French style have come from two pieces that I have painted. The first is a fruitwood coffee table that someone lovingly took care of for 40 years and then donated to a thrift store. I bought it, painted it in French Linen, gave it a wash in Provence then added gilding to the edges. It looks very French now.
My other foray is a pair of mahogany end tables. They had faded tops and backs from having been near a window for years. They have been painted in a lightened version of Provence, the drawers are Old White and the gilding is called German Silver from Baroque Art. They are quite beautiful, even though my mother would have been upset that I painted over mahogany.
I have also painted this classic French drum table. It is in Old White. The edge is a mixture of Paloma, Old White and Graphite. I tried to get a layered effect. The gilding is my favorite which is German Silver again. It is an unusual gold since it looks like gold, silver and copper all together.
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