French Fauteuils

By Karen Parr-Moody


A walk through the halls of GasLamp and GasLamp Too is a trip through history and countries. France features prominently, and the stores are filled with gorgeous French chairs, particularly elegant fauteuils in the Louis XV and Louis XVI styles.


The French word “fauteuil” literally translates to “armchair.” The style originated in France of the early 1600s and is a type of open-arm chair with an exposed wood frame and upholstered seat, back and arms. These chairs typically feature some type of carved relief ornamentation.


During the reign of the French King Louis XV, who was heavily influenced by his taste-making mistress, Madame du Pompadour, the style of the day was Rococo. In fact, the term “Louis XV style” is virtually synonymous with “Rococo style.”


Fauteuils of the Louis XV style feature serpentine curves along their seat rails, back, arms and legs. They are a study in curves, carving and gilding – note the floral carvings on the crest rail and other rails of the chair in the photo, right ($298; Booth T-284). This chair also showcases other Louis XV features, including the shield” back that is a hallmark.  


Louis XVI style differs distinctly from the curvaceous designs of the earlier Rococo, or Louis XV, style. Named after the French king who married Marie Antoinette in 1770, chairs of the Louis XVI style are also called “neoclassical,” as they feature such neoclassical features as finely fluted, straight lines.


The Louis XVI style has long been admired for its restraint. Still, one of the style’s hallmarks is its lavish carvings, which includes motifs such as ribbon twists, lyres and wreaths.


King Louis XVI reigned over France between 1774 and 1792, but this neoclassical furniture style remained popular after his death by guillotine and through the Napoleonic era – and it is still admired today.


Several distinctions mark this particular fauteuil, in the photo, left, as a Louis XVI style. Its round back – also called a “medallion” back – is one (although Louis XVI chair backs can also feature the shield shape of Louis XV chairs). So is the carved relief ornament of geometric rosette motifs on the seat rail. Note the fluted legs with shallow grooves running vertically along their shaft: these imitate the classical columns of ancient Rome and Greece.


What influenced the design of these fluted legs – which are seen again in this Louis XVI fauteuil in the photo, right – was the archaeological discoveries, in 1748, of the ancient Roman towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, located near modern-day Naples, Italy. This event revived the classical forms of ancient Rome and Greece throughout Europe and inspired Louis XVI furniture design.  


While some Louis XVI fauteuils display only a moderate degree of carved detail, others feature an elegant exuberance in their lavish carving, as does this shield-back version. Note that the crest is topped by an ornately carved wreath with acanthus leaves and fluted melon finials. The arms and rails also feature carved acanthus leaves. The rose-patterned upholstery and heavy gilding are perfect for this beautiful piece, which is one of a pair ($2,500 for both; T-360).


The Louis XVI fauteuil, a study in restrained classicism, remains one of the most popular chairs in the history of furniture design. In fact, when architect Philippe Starck created his “Ghost” chair in clear injection-molded polycarbonate in 2002, his interpretation of a historic chair in modern materials was modeled after a Louis XVI fauteuil. It caused a sensation in the design community and became a modern icon.



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