From 28 October 2014 to 22 February 2015, the Palace of Versailles is hosting the exhibition “18th Century, Birth of Design, Furniture Masterpieces from 1650 to 1790” in the Africa and Crimea Rooms.
The exhibition offers a glimpse of the ingenuity of a bygone era viewed from a present-day perspective and showcases the innovative and avant-garde nature of the shapes, techniques, decorations and materials used in 18th century furniture.
The exhibition includes around 100 major works from collections at the Palace of Versailles, the Louvre Museum, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, the Palace of Fontainbleau and the Getty Museum, alongside works from private collections which will be on show to the public for the first time.
Cabinets, desks, writing tables, commodes and console tables, but also sofas, armchairs, folding chairs and seating chairs will testify to the revolution that the 18th century brought about in the history of furniture, a reflection of the evolving tastes of a society enamoured by modernity and wanting to live in comfort and luxury.
The concept of design
In 1712, Shaftesbury introduced the term and concept of “design” to art theory. It contains the dual meaning of “plan” and “intention” and unifies the processes of conceiving and shaping a work. For the first time, furniture was planned with forethought, created with specific intention and shaped for both functionality and comfort. 18th-century furniture was produced according to design sources, both in its overall conception and its quest for harmony between form and function.
The transformation of furniture
The quest for the ideal shape and form hit its peak in the 18th century, when the shape of furniture began to change. Inventiveness and creativity abounded and new outlines began to take shape, from console tables to commodes to secretary and armoire desks. Rigid outlines began to soften, then morphed into rounded curves, subsequently giving way to curved legs – sometimes four, six or even eight of them… Furniture became multi-purpose and featured mechanisms that allowed it to transform into something else.
Boldness of materials and colours
The same quest characterised the use of materials: furniture was covered with exotic woods, lacquers, varnishes, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, bronze, brass, lead, porcelain, straw, steel and stone marquetry. Cloth, bulrush and copper began to be used in chairs. Long before the garish colours afforded by plastic in the 20th and 21st centuries, the 18th century saw the birth of furniture in red, daffodil yellow, turquoise blue, apple green, partially gilded or silvered, etc. At the same time, other colour palettes were limited to the black and gold of lacquer and bronze, and patterns were reduced to natural ones made out of quality materials such as mahogany.
Source: Château de Versailles