Antique Continental Furniture

Furniture made on the mainland of Europe varied from country to country, but both craftsmen and ideas were interchanged from time to time. Local tastes and the use of local timbers often played a part in creating a fashion that spread eventually from east to west. There is no space here to deal with the detailed history of the subject in each individual land, but some general notes may be helpful. French furniture, having attained a world-wide interest and importance, is described at greater length.

France

French furniture of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is not greatly different from that made elsewhere in Europe at those dates. However, the principal wood used in England was oak, but in France it was walnut which was plentiful there. Just as many foreign workers came to London, so did others to Paris; it is almost impossible to distinguish an Italian-made cabinet from one made in France by an Italian craftsman. It was not until the end of the seventeenth century that French furniture gained its recognizable distinction. The first to give his name to a style there was Andre Charles Boulle (1642- 1732), who perfected a marquetry, originating in Italy, employing tortoiseshell and brass which was used mostly on furniture veneered with ebony. This is known now either as Boulle or Buhl work, and the majority of it that has survived was made in Victorian times, or later. Old work of the eighteenth century is very valuable ($3,000 to $6,000 for a piece would not be considered extraordinary), but the nineteenth-century copies fetch a tenth or so of this.
Louis XV
Louis XVI

Germany

At the time when Queen Anne walnut-veneered furniture was being made in England, rather similar pieces were made in parts of Germany. They can be distinguished from one another by the more extravagant lines of those from Germany: whereas an English chest might have a gently shaped front with straight sides, the German equivalent would have a deeply curved front, and the sides would be curved also. German walnut bureau-bookcases (a sloping-front bureau with a cupboard above) have been offered from time to time as genuinely of English manufacture, and in some instances their more obvious curves have been skillfully reduced. Later in the eighteenth century Germany copied the prevailing French styles.

Holland

Dutch furniture has always had close links with English, and much Dutch and Flemish oak has been, and still is, mistaken for English work. In the times of William and Mary and Queen Anne, there was a flow of Dutch craftsmen 10 England, and much of the furniture of those periods could have been made in either country. Some of the walnut-veneered and marquetry pieces are, like the German, rather over-shaped and too heavily decorated to be of English make. Large two-door cupboards of walnut and ebony were popular, these were constructed to take to pieces for transport and are found in Holland and farther afield. Dutch chairs of a design reminiscent of the work of Robert Adam, with carved ornament of leaves and ribbons, were made in mahogany and can be mistaken for English. Towards the end of the eighteenth century, the Dutch cabinetmakers made some attractive furniture of oak veneered with satinwood and inset with shaped panels of lacquer. Tables, cabinets and fall-front secretaires are to be found in this style. Much of the Dutch walnut and mahogany furniture inlaid with marquetry of flowers and birds, often bookcases with glazed doors, and sloping-front bureaus, have had the marquetry added long after they were made. This was done when plain furniture was temporarily unfashionable.

Italy

Italian furniture inspired or followed the design of most of the main types of other European countries. Marquetry was first used there, and developed later in Holland and England, and by Boulle in France. The furniture of Italy varies from district to district, not only in details of design but in the timber from which it was made. Many pieces were veneered, others were gilded, and others lacquered. The painted or lacquered furniture made in Venice in the eighteenth century is much in demand at present.

Scandinavia

Much English furniture was imported into the Scandinavian countries in the eighteenth century. The most famous and valuable that was actually made there was the work of a Swede, George Haupt (1741 to 1784), trained in Paris and London, who made furniture in Stockholm in the Louis XVI style. His work is rare and valuable.


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