This section is from the book "The Practical Book Of Interior Decoration", by Harold Donaldson Eberlein, Abbot Mcclure, Edward Stratton Holloway. See also: The Victorian House Book: A Practical Guide to Home Repair and Decoration.
Floors were usually of wood and it was customary to enhance the entire decorative ensemble of the room by introducing geometrical patterns parquetted (Plate 49) in several woods of different contrasting colours. Marble and marble-tiled floors were also occasionally used in the larger and more formal rooms.
The Directoire mode embodied an ideal altogether different from that which had actuated the architectural and decorative practice of the Louis Seize period.
In Louis Seize manifestations, French individuality and the fecund spirit of the time, although deriving the major part of their inspiration from classic antiquity and incorporating pure classic forms into current composition, nevertheless added thereto an. abundant body of graceful and often playful amenities of detail of modern and local devising. Adaptations, likewise, were freely made, but always in a spirit consistent and harmonious with the underlying classic ideals. These additions and adaptations were responsible for the piquancy and blithesome vitality of the "Style Louis Seize."
The Directoire mode was a deliberate and intentional piece (Plate 50) of decorative archaeology. From the classic body it remorselessly sheared off all the accretions of blithesome grace and vivifying invention which the Louis Seize designers and craftsmen had imparted to their handiwork and confined itself to a rigidly literal reproduction of antique practice. It was Louis Seize stripped naked and reduced to the low-est terms. Nay more, whenever opportunity permit-ted, not satisfied with meticulous adherence to the spirit of a long dead and gone past, its interpreters strove with all their might and main to reproduce "particular monuments or as large portions of them as could by any possible means be made to accord with modern requirements." "Thus the letter took precedence over the spirit with the usual unsatifactory results and, while the details and composition of antiquity were more accurately copied, they were used to less purpose." Such forms of ornament as were retained in the new system had the specific sanction of exact historic prototypes. The process of elimination and restraint produced a fashion in many respects altogether admirable.
The Directoire style at its best excels in chaste simplicity and grace and possesses a very distinct charm worthy of sincere emulation (Plate 51). The weak point about it all, and the feature open to unfavourable criticism, was the narrow conception of its originators and fautors, a conception that absolutely limited it within the atraitest bounds, stifled imagination, arrested legitimate growth and forbade development, a conception, indeed, that effectually suppressed real creative instinct and deprived it of the vitality necessary to endurance and perpetuation, a conception, in short, that embalmed the style and insisted upon putting it on exhibition instead of using it.
It was well enough for the people of the time, if it pleased their fancy, to conceive that "the ancient republics enjoyed a regime of pure democracy and individual liberty, and that their citizens were models of all the austere and simple virtues"; it was well enough, too, for them to light their rooms with Pompeian candelabra, to place Etruscan vases on their chimney-pieces, and "to breakfast at tripods, seated on curule chairs," but to insist upon these domestic equipments and these only, to the exclusion of all else, was an attitude that did not conduce to wholesome growth and a logical interpretation of precedents to meet the living needs of the day. In other words, the ultra purist promoters and adherents of the Directoire style seem to have esteemed its real elegance and graceful beauty less than its symbolism of a social condition which, to them, it seemed to embody. They made it an empty simulacrum of their political aspirations. They shut their eyes to its real value and meaning as an expression of art and reduced it to the level of a fad. Under the circumstances, it is not to be wondered at that it was soon strangled and obliged to give way before the more robustly insistent Empire mode which was shortly to follow it.
It goes without saying that the rooms were entirely syihmetrical in their dimensions and regular in the disposition of their openings when there was everywhere such zeal for exact archaeology. Window and door trims were much simplified and were often bereft of their former architectural features. Indeed, the openings for doors frequently had no architraves, columns nor pilasters, and when columns or pilasters were used, they had no bases. There was a mere apology for capitals, and pillars very often carried only lintels and not entablatures. Windows were divided into fewer and larger panes and the panes were set in narrower muntins. In some cases windows had semicircular, instead of square heads, and also a few window openings were semicircular or lunette shaped. The panels of doors were shallower and the surrounding mouldings flatter. In shape the panels were horizontally rectangular and of fairly small size, or else of lozenge shape and large. The taste for lozenge-shaped panels seems to have been akin to the fancy for intersecting diagonals wherever they could be introduced in balconies or lattices.
The time-honoured custom of panelling walls was in many cases represented by painting on a flat plaster ground (Plate 51), the decorating being done in the Pompeian style, long, narrow panels alternating with broader divisions. Again, panels or divisions approximating panels would be filled with strained fabric - the toile de Jouy linen with its classic motifs, elongated octagons, ovals, circles, cameo designs and lyres, all connected by a series of arabesques, or else a linen printed in some restrained and small-sized Chinese motif. An even more characteristic treatment was to apply paper in panel forms, using for this purpose the hand-blocked designs of classic subjects in large size, done in monochrome from cartoons prepared by David. These were exceedingly beautiful and dignified and within the past few years the present owners of the blocks have again begun to make impressions from them, which are not at all prohibitive in price. Then, again, plain walls were often covered with simple paper of small design or with landscape paper in monochrome or in subdued tones. When walls had a plain papered or painted surface it was not at all unusual to introduce a deep frieze below the cornice and to dispense, on the other hand, with the dado, there being nothing but a low washboard at the base of the walls.