Style Guide: French Style

Victoria pierced centrepiece, Minton & Co., 1851. Museum no. 454-1854

Victoria pierced centrepiece, Minton & Co., 1851. Museum no. 454-1854

French Style was a revival of styles that had been fashionable in France between 1660 and 1790. This taste was fuelled by the arrival in Britain of art dispersed after the French Revolution of 1789. The French Style represented luxury and glamour and was the most popular commercial style in Britain from about 1835 to 1880.

Characteristics

Gilding

Gilding was a very important element of the French Style. It was applied to many different kinds of objects. This use of gold was characteristic of the wealth and luxury associated with the style.

Rich colours

Rich colours were essential to the French Style. Rooms were furnished with boldly coloured carpets and curtains and richly upholstered furniture. Brightly decorated porcelain was also extremely fashionable.

Curves and scrolls

The various French styles revived in the 19th century were identified by the names of the French kings who ruled when they were first used. The Louis XV style was characterised by the use of curving S- and C-shaped scrolls.

Ornate decoration

French Style was very ornate. Objects were highly decorated and interiors were richly furnished. Grand room settings often combined modern objects in the French Style with historic French pieces.

Elaborate upholstery 

In the 19th century the comfort of historic French styles was increased by adding elaborate upholstery. Curtains were fringed, swagged and decorated with tassels. Chairs were frequently deep-buttoned and trimmed with equally rich fringes, braids and tassels.

People

George IV  (1762 - 1830)

George IV was the most important promoter of the French Style. In the early years of the 19th century he commissioned many objects in the style and collected historic French pieces. The king, who reigned from 1820 to1830, led the aristocratic taste for collecting French antiques. It was this fashion that led to the modern production of furniture, textiles, ceramics, silver and all kinds of luxury products in the French Style. During the 19th century this became the mainstay of production for most middle-class markets.

Minton & Co.

The Minton Ceramic factory in Staffordshire was established by Thomas Minton in 1796. By the Victorian period the company had become one of the largest and most successful in Britain. It produced a wide range of ceramics, but was particularly famed for its French Style pieces which emulated the luxury porcelains made at the famous French royal porcelain factory at Sèvres in the 18th century. Minton & Co. produced many spectacular pieces for display at the international exhibitions. These were guaranteed to catch the eye of visitors and were often awarded prizes.

Benjamin Dean Wyatt (1775 - 1855)

The architect Benjamin Dean Wyatt visited France briefly in 1815, but most of his knowledge and inspiration came from drawings and engravings. Wyatt was particularly interested in the art and architecture of the reign of Louis XIV (1643 - 1715). This is seen in his most famous commission, the Waterloo Gallery at Apsley House, London, the home of the Duke of Wellington. With the richly-coloured silk hangings, ornate plaster ceilings, white and gold woodwork, marble fireplace and marquetry floor, Wyatt sought to recreate the grandeur of Louis XIV's palace at Versailles.

Buildings and Interiors

Wrest Park, Bedfordshire

In Britain the French Style was used primarily for interior decoration rather than architecture. One exception to this was Wrest Park in Bedfordshire, re-built between 1834 and 1839 to the designs of its owner Earl de Grey. He was inspired by Parisian buildings and French 18th-century engraved designs. Inside, the rooms were also in the French Style with carved wooden panelling, elaborate plaster ceilings picked out in gold, and walls set with panels of brightly coloured silk. In some of the rooms the earl fitted authentic 18th-century French panelling.
www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/wrest-park

Waddesdon Manor, Buckinghamshire

Waddesdon Manor was built between 1874 and 1889 for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild, a member of the successful banking family. He, like many of his relatives, was an enthusiastic collector of 18th-century French works of art. Most of the interiors at Waddesdon were in the French Style. The Louis XV-style Dining Room featured richly coloured marbles, tapestries, carved and gilded furniture and large expanses of mirror glass. The mirror frames had come from an 18th-century house in Paris, but the rest of the furnishing were newly made.
www.nationaltrust.org.uk/waddesdon-manor

Cliffe Castle, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Cliffe Castle was built for the textile manufacturer, Henry Isaac Butterfield. His great business success allowed him to spend lavishly on the French Style interiors of his new house, constructed between 1875 and 1884. The four interconnecting drawing rooms were richly decorated with silk hangings, white and gold woodwork, and mirrored doors. The sense of opulence was enhanced by the heavy, swagged pelmets of the curtains and the deeply-buttoned upholstery of the chairs. These features were typical of French Style interiors of the 19th century.
www.bradfordmuseums.org/venues/cliffecastle


Related Style

Rococo  1730 - 1760

Rococo was one of the key elements of the French Style. Elaborate forms and the use of S- and C-shaped scrolls characterise both styles. However, French Style also drew on other, more Classical, cross-channel influences from the period 1680 to 1800. It was more colourful than Rococo and elaborate upholstery was used to increase the comfort of the historically inspired designs.

Read More about the Rococo style

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