There is a passage quoted by Mr. C. Perkins, the American translator of Dr. Falke’s German work “Kunst im Hause,” which gives us the keynote to the great change which took place in the fashion of furniture about the time of the Revolution. In an article on “Art,” says this democratic French writer, as early as 1790, when the great storm cloud was already threatening to burst, “We have changed everything; freedom, now consolidated in France, has restored the pure taste of the antique! Farewell to your marqueterie and Boule, your ribbons, festoons, and rosettes of gilded bronze; the hour has come when objects must be made to harmonize with circumstances.”
Thus it is hardly too much to say that designs were governed by the politics and philosophy of the day; and one finds in furniture of this period the reproduction of ancient Greek forms for chairs and couches; ladies’ work tables are fashioned somewhat after the old drawings of sacrificial altars; and the classical tripod is a favourite support. The mountings represent antique Roman fasces with an axe in the centre; trophies of lances, surmounted by a Phrygian cap of liberty; winged figures, emblematical of freedom; and antique heads of helmeted warriors arranged like cameo medallions.
After the execution of Robespierre, and the abolition of the Revolutionary Tribunal in 1794, came the choice of the Directory: and then, after Buonaparte’s brilliant success in Italy, and the famous expeditions to Syria and Egypt two years later, came his proclamation as First Consul in 1799, which in 1802 was confirmed as a life appointment.
We have only to refer to the portrait of the great soldier, represented with the crown of bay leaves and other attributes of old Roman imperialism, to see that in his mind was the ambition of reviving much of the splendour and of the surroundings of the Caesars, whom he took, to some extent, as his models; and that in founding on the ashes of the Revolution a new fabric, with new people about him, all influenced by his energetic personality, he desired to mark his victories by stamping the new order of things with his powerful and assertive individualism.
[Illustration: Cabinet in Mahogany with Bronze Gilt Mountings, Presented by Napoleon I. to Marie Louise on his Marriage with her in 1810 Period: Napoleon I.]
The cabinet which was designed and made for Marie Louise, on his marriage with her in 1810, is an excellent example of the Napoleonic furniture. The wood used was almost invariably rich mahogany, the colour of which made a good ground for the bronze gilt mounts which were applied. The full-page illustration shews these, which are all classical in character; and though there is no particular grace in the outline or form of the cabinet, there is a certain dignity and solemnity, relieved from oppressiveness by the fine chasing and gilding of the metal enrichments, and the excellent colour and figuring of the rich Spanish mahogany used.