Introduction

The story of interior decoration in France during the eighteenth century and the first decades of the nineteenth is not only dramatically fascinating from the merely human point of view, and intensely suggestive of innumerable precedents susceptible of modern application with the most felicitious results, but it is also thoroughly illuminating to the student of how and why things were done and of the methods of composition and design manipulation. The French were then, as they always had been, such consummate masters in the art of assimilating divers elements and of evolving therefrom, with rare selective insight, new combinations and striking forms of expression that a careful survey of their processes well repays investigation. Indeed, it is indispensable as a part of preparation for dealing successfully with modern requirements in the decorative field.

It will suit our purpose best and conduce to a truer and more coherent estimate of the character of the period if we begin our discussion with the accession of Louis XV in the year 1715. The earlier years of the century really belong to the preceding period, although the influences that blossomed forth in full force upon the demise of the Grand Monarque, and the letting down of the restrictions and conventions that had been rigorously upheld during his lifetime, had been at work for a number of years prior to that event. The year 1715, so far as any one specific date can signalise a line of demarcation between two styles, which are nearly always necessarily of gradual growth and are wont to overlap each other in their course of progress, marked the final breaking away from the old spirit of ponderosity and oppressive formalism which had been rigidly maintained, in theory at least, with a sense of almost religious obligation, so long as the "Roi Soleil" sate upon the throne. Once the restraining force was removed, reaction set in as swiftly as a, bow flies back when the arrow is shot.

One phase of the revulsion materially affected the very character of the houses and influenced not only such building activities as were newly undertaken but set in motion a significant train of alterations and readjustments in the palaces, chateaux and houses that already existed. The people were determined to be rid of the palatial atmosphere of the old regime that had grievously weighed upon their spirits and irritated their nerves. "The chilly splendours of the vast and imposing halls, which had persisted in the last century, might be an admirable setting for state pageants, but they no longer answered the wants of society, whose chief requirement was a congenial milieu for intimate gatherings, combining cosiness, daintiness, and gaiety. The age of the withdrawing-room and boudoir had arrived." Outwardly, indeed, the architectural character of the newer domestic edifices exhibited little if any noticeable departure from former precedent. "Many of the chief monuments erected at this period might, except for relatively unimportant details, belong equally well to the periods which preceded or followed; the majority of its buildings betray their Louis Quinze character externally, if at all, only by the few features which were carved or otherwise enriched."

It was inside that the notable changes took place. People preferred smaller houses, it is true, and built smaller houses, and, in the country, the petites maisons, where they could quickly escape from all tedious formalities, were often more regularly occupied than the chateaux to which they belonged, but the people likewise fell to breaking up large apartments into suites of smaller ones - the precedent for this had been set at Versailles - and prepared themselves an environment in which to live rather than a setting in which to be on parade. And it is with the interiors of such houses and apartments, "devoted to pleasure and social life," that we are here concerned, with their decorations and furnishings to which, under their various guises, we apply the generic term, "Style Louis Quinze"

In a broad, general way, when speaking of the great decorative styles, the term Rococo is usually regarded as synonymous with the Style Louis Quinze. And for purposes of convenience and the sense of identity that has sprung up, we may let it go at that. In doing so, however, we must make this reservation for the sake of historical accuracy. The early years of the Regency, while the Duke of Orleans held the reins of government, saw the development of a style commonly termed Régence, which marked the transition between the "Style Louis Quatorze" and the later full-fledged Rococo. We must also add, and insist that the facts be kept clearly in mind, that the Rococo style, in the larger signification of the term, had really struck root in the latter years of the reign of Louis XIV and that it had run its full course long before the close of the Fifteenth Louis's reign. Furthermore, we must call attention to the fact that the neo-Classic style, with which we are wont to associate the name of Louis Seize when speaking of French decoration, had already been well developed and established for years in popular favour when the last-named Louis ascended the throne.

Rococo, using the term in its more comprehensive sense, was of two kinds, good and bad. It may be likened to the proverbial little girl with the curl. When it was good, it was very, very good, instinct with grace and delicacy and full of a most refreshing, blithesome naivete of conception and a remarkable finesse of execution. Altogether, it was a decidedly agreeable and optimistic style to live with and radiated a kind of decorative sunshine. Quite on the other side of the picture, when it was bad, it was excessively horrid. Nothing, in fact, could have been worse, more offensively vulgar, more nauseatingly saccharine, more distorted, more extravagant. Adjectives, indeed, completely fail adequately to describe the thoroughly odious and inconsequently vicious character of the strumpet phase of Bococo decoration.