LOUIS XV STYLE
Louis the Beloved
Louis XV (1710-1774) was known in his youth as Louis le Bien-Aimé (Louis the Beloved) for his warmth of character, but in time earned the contempt of his subjects.
Portrait of Louis XV by Louis-Michel van Loo c. 1761
Louis held a keen interest in science and the mechanical arts, but although the French Enlightenment took place during his reign, with the participation of brilliant minds such as Voltaire and Rousseau, he is also remembered for censoring many of their works. History recounts Louis XV as an ineffectual and indolent monarch, who surrounded himself at court with countless mistresses, who curried considerable political power themselves, and for sowing a network of spies and informants with the result that the royal court was plagued by gossip, brinkmanship, and intrigue. This was highly destabilising and contributed greatly to the decline of the royal authority that ultimately led to the outbreak of the French revolution in 1789 and the beheading of his grandson Louis XVI.
Louis XV became king at the age of five on the death of his great-grandfather Louis XIV but Philippe II, duc d’Orléans ruled as regent until 1723. During the regency the seat of government retreated to Paris, but with Louis’ coming of age the Court returned to the Palace of Versailles, which had been abandoned after the death of Louis XIV. The young Louis set about completing the architectural splendours begun by his great-grandfather but also set about creating smaller and more intimate places. Louis XV also commissioned the construction of the Petit Trianon in the grounds of Versailles, which is a celebrated example of the transition from the Rococo style of the earlier part of the 18th century to the more sober and refined Neoclassical style of the 1760s and onward. Intended for his mistress Madame de Pompadour who died four years before its completion, the Petit Trianon was home instead to Louis subsequent maîtresse-en-titre, Madame du Barry.
The staircase balustrade and the The Salon at the Petit Trianon with Louis XV’s interlaced L’s carved into the panelling.
Louis XV first met the beautiful, young Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, the pretty young woman who would become the Marquise de Pompadour and known as Madame de Pompadour, at a masked ball at Versailles in 1745. Louis came to rely on her as a trusted friend and advisor — she was also an arts patron, administrator, organizer and facilitator. She was also a highly educated tastemaker, a patron of the arts, and an artist in her own right.
In this portrait of Madame de Pompadour (1721-1764), near the end of her life when she had achieved international fame, we see allusion to her artistic ability as she works weaving a tapestry at her tambour and tantalising glimpses of furniture such as the table with sewing box, or ‘table à ouvrage‘. This table is in the ‘transitional style’ with the rams-masks giving a neoclassical flavour. Furniture made for the Madame de Pompadour embodies what we think of today at the Louis XV style which is a ‘transitional style’, still showing many of the exuberant qualities of the rococo but imbued with hints of neoclassicism from the Greco-Roman world.
The Louis XV style or Louis Quinze
Louis XV laissez-faire reputation seeded itself into the etiquette of high-society and is reflected in art by a loosing of styles best embodied by the rococo. The period is characterised by collaboration between the fine and decorative arts, as exemplified by the sculptor, painter, and decorator Juste Aurèle Meissonnier’s designs for candelabra, mirrors, sofas and even ceramics. There is a move away from the triumphant and grandiose towards the ornamental and decorative. Fine floral marquetry incorporating precious timbers such as palissandre and bois de violette, as well as fruitwoods and rarities like polished metal and mother of pearl were all used to sumptuous effect. A decorative highpoint is considered the use of Chinese and Japanese lacquer coupled with foliate gilt-bronze mounts by Bernard II van Risen Burgh (BVRB), who is regarded as the greatest ébéniste of the Louis XV period. Lacquered furniture was the pinnacle of chinoiserie (add hyperlink here). The German born ébéniste Jean-François Oeben (1721-1763, maître 1759), who had trained under Louis XIV’s great ébéniste André Charles Boulle, was famed for making intricate floral marquetry and ingenious mechanical furniture as exemplified by the Bureau du Roi began by Oeben in 1760, left unfinished at his death and completed by Jean Henri Riesener (1734-1806, maître 1768).
Pierre II Migeon (1696-1758, maître circa 1725) belonged to an important Parisian Protestant family of cabinetmakers, working as an ébéniste and dealer he was supplied by the very best craftsman of the day and fulfilled various commissions to the nobility and the Garde-Meuble Royal, which was responsible for furnishing the Royal Palaces. Migeon’s furniture is an exemplar of what we today consider Louis XV style, in that it show a prefrerence for serpentine shapes, geomatic veneers and foliate marquetry without being excessively rococo. Migeon was rumoured to be Madame de Pompadour’s favourite furnituremaker.
The prevalent style of Louis XV early reign was the rococo, with an emphasis on rocaille ornament and sinuous curves. Boiserie and wall-mirrors from this period are heavily sculpted with palm fronds and floral decoration together with designs inspired by French imaginings of Chinese art and animals especially monkeys.
Le cabinet des Singes decorated in 1749-1750 at the Hôtel de Rohan, Paris, is a chef-d’oeuvre of the early Louis XV style.
The Bureau du Roi or Kings Desk is perhaps the most famous piece of furniture ever made and one of the most luxurious creations of the eighteenth century. The desk was ordered by Louis XV in 1760 from the Royal cabinet maker Jean-François Oeben for his private study and was completed approximately nine years later by Oeben’s successor Jean-Henri Riesener.
Louis XV was very interested in science and especially astronomy. This famous astronomical clock was first presented at the Academy of Sciences and then to Louis XV for the Châteaux de Choisy and moved in 1754 to the Salon de la Pendule at Versailles. The complex movement displays the time, day of the week, month, year and lunar quarter, and in the glass sphere the planets can be seen rotating around the sun. It was designed by Jacques Caffiéri (1678-1755) with Philippe II Caffiéri (1714-1774), the engineer Claude-Siméon Passemant (1702-1769) and clockmaker Louis Dauthiau (1730-1809). The case of the Versailles clock is a superb example of the mature rococo style, which was prevalent in the 1750s.
In the later Louis XV period, after 1750, there was a reaction against the excesses of the earlier rococo period and neoclassicism began to find favour with more geometric designs, sculpted garlands and white or pale coloured panelling. As evident in the design of the Petit Trianon, built between 1762 and 1768, ancient Greece and Rome began to influence architecture and interior design, as a precursor of the Louis XVI style,
Drawing dated to 1735-6 by Germain Boffrand (1667- 1754) of the bedroom of Charles de Rohan, Prince of Soubise in the Hôtel de Soubise, Paris.