Style Court

Textiles, Art History, Gardens, and a Little Mental Traveling with Courtney Barnes 2006-2016


French Descendants

[Late-Louis XIV canape from Demiurge.]

Maybe I was swayed by some comments my grandmother once made, but I used to think lounging around on the furniture for hours at a time was mainly a 20th-century habit.

[Louis XIV-style chaise lounge via Bonhams]

It's easy to forget that roughly 400 years ago the French were innovating chic pieces designed for reclining. A few years back, I enjoyed a talk given by the lively French professor and author Joan DeJean. One of her major areas of interest is Europe's longest reigning king (to date), Louis XIV (1638-1715), and she explained how he positioned France as the international arbiter of all things luxe and high style (the recent Chanel Resort show at Versailles is an example of how his power still reverberates). 

[Carolina Herrera, Jr.'s estancia photographed by Francois Halard, American Vogue Living
fall/winter 2008] 

In the book I've been reading this week, a review copy of Fashion beyond Versailles: Consumption and Design in Seventeenth-Century France, Auburn University history professor Donna J. Bohanan explores the same period but she is specifically interested in the shopping habits and tastes of elite French women and men living far from Paris, particularly in the southern province of Dauphiné.

And although Bohanan states up front that her book is intended to be a social history ("a book about what things can tell us about the lives and lifestyles of their owners"), not a history of the decorative arts, she nonetheless describes many objects in detail. Artist Teresa Rodriguez's interpretations of period furnishings are a nice bonus, too.

 [Curator Jacqueline Jacque's now highly coveted exhibition catalogue from a recent

Extensive postmortem household inventories, required by law in France during the 17th and 18th centuries, give us a sense of just how busy French upholsterers were (the volume of slipcovers is a little staggering), how many sets of chairs French provencials bought, and what the must-have pieces were (Turkish rugs, paintings, lacquered Asian-inspired cabinets, clocks, impressive beds bedecked with harmonizing textiles, softly-cushioned modern chaise lounges, and pairs, pairs and more pairs). We also learn who could afford to embrace ever-changing color trends -- from rich reds and greens to blues to lighter, brighter shades such as citron, yellow, and pink with green.

[Louis XIV-style at Amy Perlin

 [Coleen Rider's photo of a Peter Dunham vignette using Carolina Irving's blue-and-white fabrics. Directly below, Dunham embraces the French style of repeating a pattern throughout a bedroom, House & Garden, August 2006.]

 [Below, a detail of a fragment of a 17th-century Anatolian rug from the 
Turk ve Islam Eserleri Museum in Istanbul, via Hali spring 2007]

[Betsy Burnham's house photographed by, Lisa Romerein; image courtesy Burnham.]

[Sid Mashburn day-glo Tretorns]

More than the direct influence exerted by the Sun King, Bohanan is concerned with the power of fashion, the desire to be in style, and the impact of abundant engravings and magazines such as Le Mercure. She writes:

"What was fashionable and state of the art in Paris captured the hearts and minds, and soon the purses, of provincial nobles, connoting a closer relationship between center and periphery than historians of grain prices and market integration have maintained -- this because consumption of decorative items has little to do with traditional market forces of supply and demand." 

[Garniture -- all the rage in Bohanon's findings. I recently spotted this five-piece set
 over at Ceylon et Cie.]

[Dick Dumas's 1980s (or 70s?) four-poster bed made from plumbing pipes and covered with Manuel Canovas fabric, as seen in Pierre Deux's French Country.]

Interior decoration is referenced in some way throughout the entire book; after all, architecture and decoration were (and clearly still are) such powerful ways of expressing one's identity. In subcategories, though, Bohanan delves into: comfort, convenience, and innovation in furniture and lighting; color, regularite, and the French preoccupation with matched sets; luxury; taste and politics; and dining and sociability.

[Ann Mashburn, a self-described Francophile, with husband Sid. The bed hanging is a much more minimal descendant of the elaborate hangings which evolved throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. 
Photo by Jessica Antola, House Beautiful, July 2011.]

[Mashburn at home, photographed by Erica George Dines courtesy Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles.]

The images I've included here may seem incongruous. Why not stick with 17th-century antiques (with period-appropriate upholstery), period-inspired rooms, quintessentially French interiors, or at least more than one house that actually is in France? With the exception of les indiennes -- the Indian cottons which were very much in vogue centuries ago -- my contemporary choices don't reflect the more opulent textiles and objects Bohanan describes. Inspired by her book, I thought it would be interesting to show how elements and trends favored by the privileged provincials (pairs, lavish use of one fabric) endure today in less likely places far beyond the borders of France and are sometimes even embraced by mix-happy Anglophiles, myself included.


Emile de Bruijn said...

That sounds like a fascinating book, I must put it on my wish list, especially as I am trying to look at similar fashion patterns relating to chinoiserie in Britain.

Was your grandmother of that forbidding generation that decreed sitting bolt upright at dinner, with one's back not touching the chairback? :)

Style Court said...

Emile, re the the grandparents, yes, your guess is pretty close :)

In terms of the book, an interesting point Bohanan makes is that the concept of luxury evolved, from a focus on 'exotic' chinoiserie and citrus trees to an interest in physical comforts as well.

Ann said...

What a great book. I think as much as contemporary design likes to be free form, I think we, by instinct mimic things we really admire and like, be it copious amounts of fabric or pairings or layering. Good design is still relevant. As for me, I'll take the antiques and their rooms any day which is I suppose an anomaly for my generation. :)

andrew1860 said...

You are so right Interior decoration and architecture are powerful ways of expressing one's identity. Without meeting a person if you can walk into someone's space it can tell a lot about them. Wonderful post and very well illustrated by you. I loved seeing French inspired interiors that were not in France. I would love to read the book. I have a hole list that I have not, I will have to add this one.

Style Court said...

Ann -- the desire to emulate is a major theme throughout the book, so you're on the same wave length as Bohanan!

Andrew -- thanks! I agree about rooms being a window into someone's personality and I totally identify with too many great books/too little time. This book happens to be approximately 100 pages, if that helps to know. Not one of those tomes that requires an endless amount of extra time to take in, and it's well-suited to reading in short stages then returning back.

Anonymous said...

First, let me say how pleased I am that you featured my book on this wonderful site. I am a huge fan of Style Court, and I check it every morning when I turn on the computer. I have learned so much your blog!

I also to thank you for your thoughtful analysis and presentation of the book. You have done a beautiful job with it.

Finally, I am reading the comments with great interest, and would be happy to respond to any questions about the book.
Many, many thanks,
Donna Bohanan