Armchair

Probably Paris, c. 1670-1680
Carved and gilt beech, modern upholstery
114.7 x 70 x 80 cm
Bequest of Émile Peyre, 1905
Inv. PE 704
© Les Arts Décoratifs / photo: Jean Tholance

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The structure of this chair reflects the new taste for comfort and luxury that emerged in the second half of the seventeenth century. The high, slightly backward-leaning back, designed to support the shoulders, took over from the low, wide back popularized by Abraham Bosse’s engravings depicting French life in the reign of Louis XIII. This roomy new chair was given the name fauteuil, which appeared in the inventories instead of the term chaise à bras, used in the first half of the century. The decoration of the wood also represents a change, as does the baluster turning of the base, instead of the previously used spiral or twist turning; as a result, the various elements of the base are visually more dynamic, with skillfully connected narrow and wider parts. This greater flexibility of line is even clearer in the armrests, of circular cross-section, whose gentle curve heralds the forms of the following century. The vibrancy of this new design is also apparent in the carved decoration: the front stretcher features an escutcheon (shield) composed of two confronted acanthus scrolls; the legs end in flattened balls adorned with garlands of acanthus leaves. The tips of the armrests, also decorated with acanthus motifs, end in stems that are echoed by others where the armrests meet the chair back. The principal change reflected by this chair, however, is the use of gilding on the wood; as a result of the quest for splendor and harmony in interior decoration during the reign of Louis XIV, the use of this technique spread to furniture as a whole and was no longer reserved for items such as pedestal tables, wall sconces and frames. The well preserved original gilding on this chair shows a concern for effect: the primer was hastily applied and the reparure (refinement of the carving) rather summary, but the gilder skillfully accented his work by contrasting the large burnished surfaces with the carved escutcheon that stands out on a sable ground and by surrounding the acanthus motifs on the armrests with a stamped border. The chair’s ample proportions, fully covered back and gilt base served to highlight the richness of the upholstery fabric, giving the upholsterer an importance that has since declined.

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