Armchair, Paris, c. 1720

Carved and gilt beech
112 x 76 x 63 cm
Gift of Rodolphe Kahn, 1888
Inv. 4563
© Les Arts Décoratifs

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The frame of this armchair is carved with bulrushes entwined by acanthus leaves interspersed with shells; it indicates the newly important role of sculptors in the art of seat-making, working closely with chair makers and gilders within the highly regulated Parisian guild system. The French Régence style, which lasted from 1700 to about 1735, was marked by changes of form resulting from an easing of etiquette and a new art of living. The straight lines that were popular in the seventeenth century gradually gave way to greater fluidity. Chair outlines were full of curves, with arched legs, a violin-shaped back, curving arm posts and a base made lighter by the absence of a stretcher. The structure was no longer fully upholstered with fabric and the uprights and base were also carefully carved. At a time when the fashion was for hoop skirts, the arm posts became shorter and their supports were placed further back on the chair. This armchair features another innovation of the period: its upholstery could be changed to match the season’s fashion, with removable frames (chassis) that made it possible to change winter furniture into summer furniture. Some chairs had several frames, each covered with a different fabric, while on others the upholstery alone was changed with a system of covers attached by eyelets. This armchair features the former system for the seat and back, but the arm pads (manchettes) are held in place with cord threaded through holes under the armrests. In an article on furniture in his book Architecture française, published in Paris in 1752-1756, Jacques-François Blondel vaunted the merits of the second system: “Production has been perfected to the point of being able to change the fabrics and upholstery of armchairs, sofas, etc. by using false bottoms and backs that can be disassembled with screws or that are attached with a tourniquet device, so that the fabrics can simply be applied according to the changing seasons without taking up storage space.”

Bill Pallot, L’Art du siège au XVIIIe siècle, Paris, ACR-Gismondi Éditeurs, 1996, p. 110, repr. p. 111.

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