Empire style

Empire style

Empire style, manner of French interior decoration and costume which evolved from the Directoire style. Designated Empire because of its identification with the reign of Napoleon I, it was largely inspired by his architects Percier and Fontaine. Traditional classical motifs, already seen in the reign of Louis XVI, were supplemented by symbols of imperial grandeur—the emperor's monogram and his emblem, the bee; representations of military trophies; and after the successful campaigns in Egypt, Egyptian motifs. Furniture was characterized by clear-cut silhouettes and symmetry in decoration. Pedestal tables with claw feet and gondola, or sleigh, beds were in vogue. The staple wood was mahogany, solid or veneer; brass and ormolu mounts were the chief embellishments. Stucco decoration or painted classical motifs often enriched the walls; the ceilings were plain. The style continued in fashion until c.1830. A simplified form was adopted in England and the United States; a German bourgeois adaptation is known as Biedermeier. The empress Josephine introduced the high-waisted court dress with train, which shows Greek influence. Men began to wear full-length trousers and polished top hats. The style of the first Empire is to be distinguished from that of the second (1852-70), which was gaudy and ostentatious.

See S. Grandjean, Empire Furniture: 1800-1825 (1966) and P. E. W. Cunnington, Costumes of the Nineteenth Century (1971).

American Empire is a French-inspired Neoclassical style of American furniture and decoration that takes its name and originates from the Empire style introduced the First French Empire period under Napoleon's rule. It gained its greatest popularity in the U.S. after 1810 and is considered the second, more robust phase of the Neoclassical style, which earlier had been expressed in the Adam style in Britain and Louis Seize, or Louis XVI, in France. As an early-19th-century design movement in the United States, it encompassed architecture, furniture and other decorative arts, as well as the visual arts.

In American furniture, the Empire style was most notably exemplified by the work of New York cabinetmakers Duncan Phyfe and Paris-trained Charles-Honoré Lannuier. Other major furniture centers renowned for regional interpretations of the American Empire style were Boston, Philadelphia, and Baltimore. Many examples of American Empire cabinetmaking are characterized by antiquities-inspired carving, gilt-brass furniture mounts, and decorative inlays such as stamped-brass banding with egg-and-dart, diamond, or Greek-key patterns, or individual shapes such as stars or circles.

The most elaborate furniture in this style was made around 1815-25, often incorporating columns with rope-twist carving, animal-paw feet, anthemion, stars, and acanthus-leaf ornamentation, sometimes in combination with gilding and vert antique (antique green, simulating aged bronze). The Red Room at the White House is a fine example of American Empire style. A simplified version of American Empire furniture, often referred to as the Grecian style, generally displayed plainer surfaces in curved forms, highly figured mahogany veneers, and sometimes gilt-stencilled decorations.

This Americanized interpretation of the Napoleonic Empire style continued in popularity in conservative regions outside the major metropolitan centers well past the mid-nineteenth century.



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