Louis XV was the grandson of King Louis XIV and ruled France between 1715 and 1774. He is most commonly known for being one of France's most unpopular kings. During his reign, he managed to upset almost every social group in his country, yet surprisingly, in its own exclusive way, that segregation from his people has led to the Louis XV period antique furniture being some of the most sought after French furniture in the world.
Due to the unbalance of his country, the remaining Louis XV furniture is seen as a great treasure that heralds from a time of grave public unrest in France and symbolises the determination of its people as a whole but, in particular, in its furniture designers to continue to inspire, create and deliver a legacy of beautiful, intricate and detailed furniture which remains to this day a coveted style of design.
For all the things that went wrong with Louis XV's reign as King of France, one thing that is undeniable is the detailed quality of the furniture that rose from this dark time in France's history to reer a head of something quite the opposite, both elegant and flowing, in a time of bleak misery.
What Makes Louis XV Furniture Louis XV Furniture?
There are a number of tell-tale design characteristics that articulate this style of design. It is quite common to hear or see pieces of furniture incorrectly described as Louis XV, when in actual fact, they are Louis XIV. What separates the two is actually quite distinctive, and I'll list them below.
Louis XV Furniture is:
- Designed more curvaciously
- Free flowing forms and shapes
- Not made with straight lines, straight cuts or anything that looks angular
- Intricately carved and seemingly infinitely detailed
- Hand painted
- Shells tend to form the focul points of each design
- Symbolic of romance, sensuality and love
- Light and graceful
Louis XV Furniture is not:
- Reliant on presence to state its claim, such as Gothic Furniture
- Made with straight cuts
- Big, bulky or angular
- Strong and masculine
- Machine painted
- Machine cut
You will find that Louis XIV furniture is quite the opposite in style to Louis XV, and where I've listed the points above that are not associated with Louis XV, you will tend to find these same characteristics present in Louis XIV furniture, for example, it will be more angular and less graceful, more inline with a masculine strength of style than a graceful, romantic wisp as seen in Louis XV furniture. It is a very common mistake, most probably due to the similarities in name, but it is vital when identifying your antique furniture to get the periods correct as unsurprisingly, it can cause chaos for the buyer at auction!
The next problem I tend to see quite often in my field is misselling replicas as originals.
Identifying Real Louis XV Antique Furniture
Yes, as sad as it is, there will always be those amongst us who feel the need to misrepresent antiques for personal gain by selling copies or replicas. When buying antiques, especially online, make sure to use a respected reseller, such as LJR Windwake & Sons, or a seller who specialises in your desired style, in this case, a Louis XV Antique Furniture Specialist. It is vitally important to be utterly scrupulous when buying antiques online at auction sites or dealers, but fortunately, I have some good tips on how to make sure that the piece of furniture you're buying is the real deal.
1. Ask for Details on How the Cupboard was Made
Make sure you ask the seller to explain to you how the piece was made, making sure to get him to describe to you the joints in the wood. If they are visible, and keep in mind that the joinery of an 'antique' would not be machine cut but would in actual fact be hand cut, ask him to describe them to you. Chances are that hand cut joints will be rougher and perhaps not as exact as machine cut joints, which should be a good indication of originality and the antique you are buying is actually an 'antique' and not something that was knocked off a production line in ShenZhen, China, 2006.
The best way to find a cut is to remove a draw and have a close look at where the front and back of the drawer are fastened to the sides of the drawer. If a joint was made by hand, it would be dovetailed and have only a few dovetail joints, and they wouldn't be precisely even. If the dovetails are close together and precisely cut, it will have been machine-cut. Handmade dovetails almost always indicate a piece made before 1860.
2. Look for Imperfections such as Nicks and Cuts
Another great way to help identify the validity of an antique or hand-made piece of furniture would be to look closely for nicks and cuts on the back, sides and bottom of the draw. Nicks and cuts usually indicate a hand operated tool was used to plane, shave or cut the wood. Straight cuts, the kind you'd get from a straight saw, are also good signs whereas cuts that look circular in appearance mean that the cut was made with a circular saw, again not in use until after 1860.
3. Exact Symmetry? No way!
This is probably the easiest tell tale sign of machine made furniture compared to hand made. If something looks exactly symmetrical, chances are its been cut by machines, so make sure you request lots of pictures of the piece of furniture you're buying.
4. Ask for a Detailed Description of the Finish
The style of finish is also a great way of identifying the age of a piece of Louis XV. Certain finishes were in use in different periods which is an excellent way to identify the age of your antique furniture. For Louis XV, it should all be hand painted. Hand painting is often identifiable by slight imperfections in brush strokes or edges, although some of the finest Louis XV won't show any signs of human error, because the quality was so high, it is always advisable to ask for pictures of all paintwork, especially so for imperfections as these can actually ADD to the value of your furniture.
5. Make Sure the Seller Explains the type of Wood used in Manufacture
This is often a simple method of gauging an age because generally, as a rule of thumb, anything before 1700 was made from oak, 1700 onwards (our Louis XV era), mahogany and walnut were the choice woods. if its pine, it normally indicates an American furniture piece and is normally indicative of slightly cheaper works. The really valuable, old antique Louis XV treasures will be made from mahogany or walnut.
Always be careful when buying antique furniture but if you are thinking of buying, make sure you arm yourself with as much research as possible prior to attending auction houses. It is also very advisable to go to an auction with a particular object in mind. Visit the open days, make your notes, go home and research what you've seen and then attend the auctions with renewed knowledge about your purchase and always, always try to get as much information out of the seller as possible, whether buying online or at an auction house.