The Grand Monarch had at last departed this life. His rule had been long and it was his great grandson, Louis XV, the "Well Beloved," who succeeded him. The Duke of Orleans acted as Regent during the minority of the King (1715-1723) and an immediate reaction against the pompous splendour of the previous regime ensued, resulting in an entire change in feeling and in mode of life. Freed from the burdensome control of that supreme egoist Louis Quatorze, the luxurious and pleasure-loving court found no restraint in the dissolute Regent nor in the young King, who only eight years later succeeded him. Tiresome functions in the great halls of Versailles gave way to the intimate meetings of the petit cabinet It was an age of extreme politeness and of "manners," but also of familiar intercourse; smaller rooms came into vogue and, appropriately to them, smaller pieces of furniture and new forms suited to the new social life. Luxury, comfort, new sensations and beauty were the things sought for, and in the seeking was felt an absolute freedom from all restrictions in choice of form, material and colour and the sources from which they came. Is it too undignified to say that when freed from its heavy-handed ruler France arose and kicked its heels?

The young King (only thirteen years old when he took the throne in 1723) put the wise Cardinal Fleury at the head of affairs and this minister did his utmost for the welfare of France. Louis was amiable, but weak and inefficient. As he grew older he fell under the influence of his dissolute noblemen and the people who had rejoiced at his accession found as little consideration at his hands as they had experienced under his predecessor. Not many years ago contempt for the "public" was expressed in terse and vigorous language by the late Commodore Vanderbilt, and the ancestry of that attitude is a long one. It was never more manifest than in the reigns of the three successive Louis and it was not wonderful that it finally found its aftermath in the Revolution.

But meanwhile the exorbitant taxes were yielded by a suffering people and spent in luxury. The supreme selfishness and profligacy of the era are sufficiently well known: less popularly appreciated are its refinement, sincere appreciation of beauty, freedom from vulgarity and its intellectuality. If it was the age of the boudoir it was also that of the salon. If the Pompadour ruled King and State for the nineteen years from 1745 to her death in 1764, and if her draughts on the treasury amounted to hundreds of millions of livres, her taste at least was impeccable and much of the money was spent on an architecture and decoration rendering France famous for all time.

Because of her rule and that of her successor, Madame du Barry, and because of the great influence of the feminine sex in general upon the social life of the times, we constantly hear (and have grown somewhat wearied in the hearing) the half truth that the style of Louis Quinze was the result of the Reign of Woman. The present writers would prefer to say that it was the effect of the Reign of Freedom and Irresponsibility. The gaiety, brilliance of life, the expression of its revolt from control, its desire for elegance, its undisguised and irregulated search for beauty from whatever source, found relief in many frivolous phases, but the style as a whole was not only a perfect rendering of the Gallic spirit but an amazing exhibition of fertility and quality in design and consummate workmanship. The ebenistes, weavers of tapestries and carpets, and art-workers of all descriptions, still under the patronage of the crown, naturally breathed the pervading and exciting atmosphere and responded to the spirit and demands of the time. Nevertheless, it is to be remembered that these men had received their training under the old regime and did not abandon their traditions of craftsmanship, but gradually adapted them to the changed conditions and new requirements. The Re-gence style of decoration is an admirable one, retaining much of the dignity of the previous age but modified by the easier feeling characteristic of the newer time. Indications of the Rococo had appeared even during the reign of Louis Quatorze, but it was not until his successor sat upon the throne that its full flowering came.

Le Style Louis Quinze was the complete triumph of the Romantic. It was revolutionary, it was something the world had never previously seen. As the outstanding motif of the Baroque was the broken curve, those of the new movement were the flowing double curve, or line of beauty, and the C scroll; and in these there was nothing cumbersome nor tight; they were instinct with spring and swing and ease.

Neither of these were new, but their employment was very new indeed. Never before had decoration known a style in which curves so completely became construction, in which the rectilinear was to such an extent banished. Furthermore, even the usual symmetry of the opposing sides of a design was finally abolished, and balance was sustained by asymmetrical arrangement.

The name of this decoration is composed of the first syllables of Rocaille and Coquille and hence signifies rock and shell. The shell remained over from Baroque times, but it was now more than ever simply a motif which might be treated in any artistic direction regardless of a close adherence to its original form. The rock form was similarly handled and Chippendale made of it extraordinary use in the French mirrors appearing in his book.

It is France alone which has so far been considered, and to France belongs the premiership in this style, though Italy is generally credited with its origin and Mr. Thomson has discovered some of its characteristics in Spain much earlier than they appeared in France. We do not yet know everything and some such points still remain to be traced. Through political misfortune Italy had lost its driving power, and from the time of Louis XIV the influence of France was supreme. Not realising perhaps that the outward glory of France was secured by the ruin of its people, Italy remained under its glamour, followed as nearly as circumstances permitted its social life in an attempted but poverty-oppressed gaiety and, in a measure to be taken up later, adopted its decorative styles. This now long distracted country was disposed of by foreign powers and divided as suited their policy, and, though after 1748 peace ruled for a season, the largest part of her territory was under the despotism of the Bourbons. Tuscany was well governed by Peter Leopold, and Venice remained a Republic till 1797 - but her glory was rapidly departing.

Under such conditions Italian craftsmanship had lost its virility and verve; national traditions were partially neglected and work was less thorough; cheap materials were used, and the cheapness disguised by imitative or decorated surfaces; yet, notwithstanding all this, the contribution of Italy to eighteenth century furniture was a distinct gain.

Both in Italy and on the Peninsula, where also the Rococo influence naturally had its day, there was, however, an occasional tendency to excess. How degenerate the Rococo could sometimes become outside of France is shown by the Portuguese furniture in Plate 151B and the Venetian chair in Plate 155 B. Is not the "inspiration" for the furniture of the Victoria-General Grant period now perfectly evident? It is to the eternal credit of France that its keen intellectuality and logical level-headedness sustained it through a style that might easily have run into utter lawlessness. At its height the contrary Classic spirit was already growing, and this tendency appealed to the discriminating taste and judgment of Madame de Pompadour and met her encouragement. Of this woman Voltaire said: "She was an artist in everything."

During the last years of the reign, when the King, now sunk in the deepest profligacy, was as well hated by his subjects as once he had been well beloved; and when the unconscionable du Barry occupied the position once held by Madame de Pompadour, decorative art was kept free from license and degradation by this counter-movement, to be described in the next chapter. Even this last mistress of the King, though lacking the refinement and taste of her predecessor, had a vital interest in art and continued its encouragement.

In England there was no Rococo movement properly to be so called. Its social life might be sufficiently worldly, but the Anglo-Saxon race has never been so light-heartedly frivolous as the Latin, and certainly was not so under its Hanoverian sovereigns.

Interior architecture there remained unaffected by the foreign influence and indeed grew still more classical, for the Adam Brothers began their work about the middle of the century and will be considered in the next chapter. Much Louis Quinze furniture crossed the Channel into English mansions, for French fashion was always powerful, but otherwise the Rococo found there but an echo - the "French" furniture of Thomas Chippendale and the occasional divagations of other designers. Yet Chippendale's chairs, commodes and mirrors in this manner are of the greatest importance. That remarkable man, with his love of the flowing line and carved ornament, took the Rococo and made it his own. In this phase his work was French and yet it remained triumphantly Thomas Chippendale.

The Architectural Background


As has already been intimated, the style of Louis XIV merged into that known by the name of his successor - for in the arts such transitions are gradual. Neither do styles wait upon the death of kings, and in the later days of le Grand Monarque there had been decided indications of the coming of the Rococo.

The excellent qualities of the Regence style are seen in the wall-treatment illustrated in Plate 37. The dignity and decorum of Louis XIV are retained in the main panelling, while it is accompanied by the readily recognised surmounting ornament of the Rococo, which also makes itself manifest in the cornice.

Illustrations of the architectural background of the Eococo itself are given in Plates 38-44. Some of these are redolent of ornament and others examples of the beautiful restraint that could be shown by France even in one of the most ornate of periods. As the details of these backgrounds are there given in the accompanying text it is unnecessary to repeat them here.

The motifs were endless, natural forms being largely employed and often with fantasy as we may realise when apes were among the decorations used (Plate 42). Chinoiserie was particularly welcomed and piquantly used.

Many of the pictorial decorations were not of high artistic quality, but to these elaborate interiors such artists as Watteau, Fragonard, Lancret and Boucher often added panel inserts of the greatest charm (Plate 38 B), and it is to be said for this pictorial decoration of the period that while it might sometimes be indiscreet it was never vulgar. In an age of such freedom other ornamental walls were naturally employed, particularly those covered with fabrics.


In circles where the example of France was likely to be followed there was some considerable adoption of the Rococo background with only national differences (Plate 21). Elsewhere there were no great changes. Fabric-covered walls were here also used.


Interior architecture remained largely as before, the Rococo influence mainly making itself felt in movable furniture.