Francophile Style

By Karen Parr-Moody


Like many GasLamp fans, I'm a card-carrying Francophile. With a surfeit of funds, I would race to GasLamp and GasLamp Too and buy so much Sèvres, Limoges and Old Paris porcelain that it would make your head spin. But French porcelain isn’t the only Francophile attraction at the stores – so grab your handbag and prepare to spend.  


My Southern grandmother adored all things gilt, hand-painted and ornate – and many modern Southern women follow in her wake, their eyes going ga-ga over “Old Paris” or “Vieux Paris” style porcelain, like the vase at right (GasLamp Too Booth T-108).  


It turns out that such gilt-y pleasures are in our DNA: shiploads of Old Paris works were purchased during the 1700s and 1800s by Southerners, with whom they were most popular among American collectors. While many pieces are unmarked, the larger factories would sign their names or leave a maker’s mark. Workshops included Edouard Honoré, Dagoty, Dihl and Guérard, Comte d’Artois, the Comte de Provence, John Nast, Duc d’Angoulême, Jacob-Petit and Darte Freres.


Such ornate works were produced by manufacturers in the city of Paris, as well as by those on the outskirts, and typically range in date from the mid-1700s through the end of the Second Empire in 1870. Collectors say that, in some cases, this made them nimbler in reacting to changing styles. Why? Because Old Paris manufacturers not only competed with each other – they also had the Royal manufacture at Sèvres and dozens of factories in Limoges with which to contend.


Then there’s the real thing: In the photo, left, is an elegant cobalt blue from the legendary French manufacturer Sèvres ($395; B-106). Designed in a baluster form, this hand-painted, finely-detailed lamp features a women holding a nosegay, a scene that is elaborately framed in gold.


In the photo, right, are a pair of statement-making blackamoors ($795; B-106). Each one is made of brass and is dressed in ornate robes and a plumed hat. One outstretched arm holds a staff that ends in acanthus leaves forming a candle holder.


The history of blackamoors – stylized depictions of Africans and Arabians – dates to Italy of the 1700s, primarily Venice. Yet while they originated in Italy, such figures were popular in the décors of Louis XV, FrenchEmpire and beyond, ultimately becoming favorite decorative pieces for interior designers.


As recently as 1998, blackamoors were included in the estate sale of the late Duke and Duchess of Windsor at Sotheby’s, taken from their Paris villa. The blackamoors had been placed there originally by Stephane Boudin, a master of classic French taste from the Parisian decorating firm Maison Jansen. The blackamoor sculptures, blended with other antiques, created a mix of centuries and cultures.


The pillow in the photo, left, is from Cynthia Rowley and features an embroidered map of famous Paris landmarks. Among them: the Arc de Triomphe de l'Étoile, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, the Louvre Pyramid, the Carrousel de la Tour Eiffel sand – naturally – the Eiffel Tower. There’s even an illustration (in yellow, for some reason) of the red windmill located on the roof of the historic cabaret known as Moulin Rouge (French for “Red Mill”).


The hearty blocks of all-natural soap in the photo, right, bear the important mark “Savon de Marseille.” Since the Middle Ages, such soaps have been made in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille and today are prized all over the world. Using an age-old method, these soaps are still made from the purest ingredients through a process that takes two weeks to complete. In France, as at GasLamp, these soaps are piled together and sold at market on tables, wrapped simply in craft paper.


What distinguishes any interior is more than color, scale and texture. It’s a unique viewpoint created through precious details. By borrowing from France, one can bring a certain “je ne se quoi” to any home by channeling the historic gems of a stylish culture.


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