Not that classic sung by The Kingsmen, the furniture!
Louis XIV, XV, XVI, there are lots Louis’s, and how do you know what you’ve got or looking at?
To start, most of us do not have real Louis furniture. Real Louis furniture is over 200 years old, but the designs are great and have enduring appeal so the styles have been reproduced and recycled for the last 200 years. Chances are that your Louis Something chair is in the style of Louis ??, not a real Louis.
But which style? Which Louis? Here’s a quick little guide:
Louis XIV (reigned 1643-1715) the Sun King, creator of Versailles and the grand French court that eventually inspired a revolution. It all starts with XIV.
Like the man himself, Louis XIV furniture is massive, gilded, over the top. This is grand Baroque, and new forms of furniture were introduced: the commode (a dresser with drawers), the settee, the console table, desks and the fauteuil (a padded armchair). Before Louis XIV, clothes were kept in chests; chairs were wooden; multiple people sat on benches, and desks were tables.
The legs, decorations and scale will tip you off to Louis XIV. Legs tend to be either baluster or curved with a deer hoof foot. The piece will be massively carved, inlaid, gilded, and geometric patterns are a feature. The scale will be large. Out of all the Louis styles, Louis XIV is the fanciest.
Louis XV (reigned 1715-1774), known for his web of foreign alliances and mistresses, he didn’t really like the spectacle of Versailles, so he built a series of smaller palaces and apartments that were more conducive to intimate gatherings and conversation. This is reflected in the furniture.
The scale of Louis XV is smaller; the forms are curved; the decoration is lighter. One might say that the Louis XV style is more feminine, along with asymmetry and fanciful elements. Dark woods with gilding are eschewed for painted pieces, in light colors, with some gilding. What’s new in this period are suites of furniture, a settee with matching chairs and tables, so people can gather around and enjoy a glass wine and a juicy gossip.
A lot of very elegant country pieces were also produced in this period, what today we think of as French Provincial. Louis XV is probably the most widely reproduced style as it is charming, light, fresh.
Louis XVI (reigned 1774-1793), while he was not the last Louis to rule France, Louis XVI is the last Louis to get a furniture style named for him.
Legs are straight and the lines are clean. Louis XVI furniture is symmetrical and often features classical motifs like acanthus leaves, egg and dart, Greek keys. There is more gilding and dark woods make a reappearance, especially mahogany.
Louis XVI is the second most reproduced style. You see both Louis XV and XVI forms in Hollywood Regency pieces.
This is a very quick guide. If you want to dive deeper in to the styles of French furniture (the French have always been chic!), there are lots of books, resources and websites to check out, or visit your local antique dealer and ask questions. We all love to talk about old stuff and share our passion and knowledge.
Miss Sophia owns Sophia’s Estate Sales, Chicago’s premier estate sale and appraisal company. Call her at 773-729-0638 for a consultation.