Louis XV And XVI Furniture: Understanding The Obsession

 

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Louis XV and Louis XVI Furniture - Some Definitions Used On This Page

* Adjustable Chairs
* 1930s & Art Deco Bookcases
* Art Deco Console Tables
* Art Deco Dressing Tables
* 1930s and Art Deco Kitchen Furniture
* Art Deco Wardrobes
* 1950s Furniture
* Biedermeier Furniture
* Bureau cabinets
* Card Tables
* All about Chairs
* Chiases lounge
* Chest of Drawers
* Cheval Mirror
* Children's Furniture
* Chinese Furniture
* Chinese Lacquer Furniture
* Clothes Presses
* Cocktail Cabinets
* Commode Confusion
* Dating Furniture
* Buying Desks
* Directoire Furniture: 1790s France
* Drawer knobs and handles
* Dumbwaiters or dumb waiter furniture
* Early Dining Furniture
* A True Eastlake Table?
* Empire Revival Furniture
* Fake and Reproduction Furniture
* Folding Furniture
* Footstools or Foot Stools
* Furniture handle and knobs
* Garden Furniture
* Hall Furniture
* Hall Stands
* Indian Furniture
* Islamic Furniture from the Middle East
* Jacobethan Furniture
* Japanese Furniture
* Louis XV & XVI Furniture: Understanding the Obsession
* Louis XV and XVI Furniture Defined
* Lounge Furniture
* Mid-Century Modern Furniture
* Music canterburies
* Octagonal Furniture
* Ottoman Furniture
* Pedestal Desks, executive office desks
* Regency Sideboard Furniture
* Reproduction Furniture

 

 

 
LOUIS XV AND XVI FURNITURE:
 UNDERSTANDING THE OBSESSION

  During the reigns of Louis XV and Louis XVI, a deluge of furniture was produced by Parisian and Provincial ébénistes (artisans specializing in veneered furniture) and menuisiers (artisans specializing in carved furniture).  Ever since, these ornate works have been highly prized; today, a privileged few private collectors and museums from around the globe vie for premium pieces at premium prices.
A Louis XV slant-front bureau, circa 1760.
A Louis XV slant-front bureau, circa 1760.
 French furniture never goes out of style. There's always been a market for this furniture, and there always will be.  It's harder to sell in a recession, but in general, it remains highly sought after.  Provenance is clearly very important, with celebrity and historic factors adding to market value. 
 Obviously the intrigue of owning a piece that belonged to Marie Antoinette is not only the celebrity value but the fact that it is the highest possible quality.

MARKET
As for value, in 1998 a previously unknown Martin Carlin porcelain-mounted writing table — reputed to have been found in an attic — was sold by Sotheby's for $2.9.

A Louis XVI gilt-bronze mounted mahogany console desserte, late 18-century
A Louis XVI gilt-bronze mounted
mahogany console desserte,
late 18th-century.

 In Monaco in April, 2000, Christie's held a single-owner sale of Karl Lagerfeld's collection of French furniture and art garnering $21,654,181 — the second highest result ever achieved for a sale of this type.
 
 Lagerfeld's top lots went for:
  • Louis XVI mahogany Armoire by Jean-Henri Riesener — $494,492
  • Louis XV Savonnerie Carpet — $861,452
  • Louis XVI Gueridon by Martin Carlin — $1,075,512
  • Louis XV Vase — $1,121,382
  Back on earth, a simpler piece of servants' quarters furniture, even with a palace stamp, might go as for as little as a few thousand dollars, and a single small Provincial chair or miniature commode can be found for under $1,000. 

A Louis XVI beechwood fauteuil, late 18th century.
A Louis XVI beechwood
fauteuil, late 18th-century.

  Beds, tables and pairs of chairs can be found for under $5,000; armoires range around $10,000.  A stamped piece would bring up to 10 percent to 25 percent above these values.
MARKS OF DISTINCTION
While often unmarked, pieces from this era can boast a variety of known stamps.  We recommend scrutinizing photographs of these stamps — including lettering and the way each is branded into the wood.  You have to be very careful — there are a lot of fakes out there.

Worn stamps can be illegible.  Often more detail will be revealed if you take a pencil-on-paper rubbing of the area.

Stamps often go unnoticed; it's not unheard of for a stamp to be discovered during an auction preview, even on important pieces.

To look for marks:
  • Shine a flashlight on it at an angle; if the light hits it in the right way, the stamp pops out.
  • On commodes, look under the marble or on the upper corners of the back framework.
  • On Parisian chairs, stamps are often on the rear seat rail, underneath the webbing and upholstery (and often worn away by upholstery tacks).
  • On small tables, look on the underside of small drawers.
  • On Provincial pieces, look on the rear seat rail or on the leg.

GOING TO THE SOURCE
Aside from auctions and reputable dealers, passionate collectors may choose to go to the source. Hotel Drouot, the famed Parisian auction house, conducts a variety of auctions simultaneously.

A Louis XV provincial walnut <br>commode, mid-18th century.
A Louis XV provincial walnut
commode, mid-18th century

 Visit their online Gazette for a schedule of upcoming auctions (currently, the site is offered only in French).

Shops and local auctions in the Paris environs may produce results and a surprising number of pieces can be found in England, having been avidly purchased at steep discounts after the Revolution.
 FURNITURE CONDITiON AND RESTORATION
It's better to restore than not to restore — if the piece warrants the investment.  Some of the best dealers will have something restored within an inch of its life — and that's okay.  They're selling a look that's very pristine, glossy and high-end.

Restorers should be accustomed to handling high caliber, highly-valued property.  Get references from museums or auction houses on area restorers.  It's important that he or she be able to speak knowledgably about the furniture and the related techniques.

The more owners a piece has had, the higher the probability of damage.  We recommend feeling along a veneered piece with one's hands seeking signs of bubbling and warping.  Only if damage is heavy can you spot it with the eye, and this kind of restoration can be very involved.  Be careful when cleaning that you don't tear it more with a rag.


On the other hand, it's not a big deal to have a little bit of loss on the veneer, especially in a less visible area.  We also suggest removing drawers to examine the quality of the dovetailing, and examine the bases of legs or feet for splicing.  Feet and legs should also be checked for worming.

If a piece is missing an ormolu mount, such as a little sabot on the foot, replacement parts can be made.  We recommend gilt bronze replacement mounts, using a 24k gold electroplating process as mercury gilding is toxic and causes mercury poisoning.

With rips in tapestry, a specialist must remove and reweave the area using the exact same color and consistency of threads.

Heavy pieces of broken marble must be bracketed with supports across the break; smaller pieces may be glued.

Gilt is often worn and chipped away due to air pockets between the wood and gesso, caused by natural shrinkage over time.  Depending on the extent of damage, a good restorer specializing in gilding and painting can either fill in the areas of loss or completely re-gild or re-paint a piece.

Restorer David Linker, an American ébéniste trained in Holland and France, uses the same restoration techniques that have been used for centuries.  He is also the American contact for another market, small but worthy of note: a team of devoted French artisans is toiling away, making new furniture using the same tools and techniques passed down through the generations since the 18th-century.  These time-consuming works preserve a valuable tradition, yet demand is small.  Not only do they cost nearly as much as an original Louis XV or XVI piece, but they lack that certain je ne sais quoi that only time and history can bestow.

 


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Louis XVI Settee
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