Rococo chairs, Neo-Rococo chair, Peasant Rococo chair, Rococo style chair …
What a jungle to fight your way through!
Perhaps it is worth mentioning when this style first emerged. It followed hard on the heels of the Baroque style and originated in France sometime around 1725–1730, where it is known as Louis Quinze, after the French king.
It evolved first and foremost into an exuberant expression of interior design characterised by fluidity, asymmetry, playfulness and an almost obsessive fascination with nature. Decorative elements such as rocailles (asymmetrical rock-work ornamentations), seashells, roses and exotic chinoiseries were among the most popular motifs. If Baroque was the era of masculinity, then Rococo ushered in an epoch of feminine frivolity. Pomp and pretension gave way to idyllic intimacy and graceful comfort.
In another comparison, someone has emphasised Rococo’s affinity to summer – and thus, by implication, cast Baroque in a role more reminiscent of autumn or winter.
There was fluidity and frivolity in Rococo chairs, as well – as witnessed in this picture by the curvaceous front legs and the elegant little-carved flower in the front rail and on the crest of the backrest.
The mid-1800s heralded the age of the revivals. As people turned their attention to past times, they rediscovered some of the decorative features of earlier furnishing styles – like the bold curves of Rococo legs. Neo-Rococo does, however, deserve to be seen as the most independent and innovative of all the Revival styles. The history of chair design has always been driven by the quest for ever greater comfort, and it is now that chairmakers begin to introduce coil springs into the upholstery of their chairs.
This picture gives a good idea of the kind of chair many people were sitting on in the 1860s.
What does the furniture restorer have to say about the term “Peasant Rococo”?
“For me, Peasant Rococo is a term sometimes used to describe Rococo-style furnishings produced in the 1900s. It’s not an accepted term, however, and you’re unlikely to see it in any serious description of furniture styles. I’d even be surprised to come across it in a crossword puzzle!”
What does the antique expert say?
“Peasant Rococo is an altogether misleading term for Swedish eighteenth-century Rococo chairs. I’ve sometimes heard it wrongly applied to Rococo chairs in the English-Dutch style. But there were never any chairmakers in the Swedish provinces who produced chairs like that. There’s no such thing as Peasant Rococo.”
What is the opinion of the art restorer?
“Very misleading! How can anyone give Swedish peasants the blame for something that doesn’t exist? After all, who has ever heard of a Peasant Gustavian chair?”
How does the antique dealer react?
“The only people who use a description like that are those who don’t know anything about the history of Swedish design. To put not too fine a point on it, they’ve no idea what they’re talking about! It just confuses the issue.”
The oak armchair from some time in the late 1800s, early 1900s was part of a bequest. It’s a sturdy specimen with a stout H-stretcher between the legs and a removable, leather covered seat. It’s a copy of an eighteenth-century chair with Dutch-English origins (Queen Anne style) and traits of both Late Baroque and Rococo design. A splendid and much-travelled chair that can look back on a long and interesting life.
“Use me once and
use me twice and
use me all your life
It’s been a long, long way…”
Yes, it’s been a long way, alright!
From a proud oak standing in the forest to timber in the carpentry workshop, where chairs are made for you, for me and for everyone else.
There is every reason to show the handsome old oak chair the respect it deserves and to take care of it in the years to come. If it doesn’t quite match its surroundings, you can repaint it, buy a new fabric and re-cover the seat, sell it, or give it away to someone who likes it.
Whatever else you do, don’t do what my neighbour did that snowy winter some years ago and simply throw out the chair, leaving it stranded forlorn and forsaken a few metres from the waste container. Goodness knows how many times I passed that poor, hapless chair on my winter walks. I soon lost count. By the time winter had given way to spring, the chair had lost its seat and one of its legs was broken. What a sad end – as so often is the case in our throwaway society.
Written by Gun Bjerkander Handberg
A quick note from the Editor….
This short story and blog are inspired by the Please Be Seated series written by the author Gun Bjerkander Handberg. Both books tell tales of historic chairs, some famous, some infamous, but all with their own unique tale to tell.
Find your copy of Please Be Seated – Historic Chairs and The Tales They Tell and More Historic Chairs at Amazon.co.uk or wherever you purchase your books online.
Please Be Seated – Historic Chairs and The Tales They Tell ISBN: 978-0-9927084-7-4
Please Be Seated – More Historic Chairs and The Tales They Tell ISBN: 978-0-9927084-8-1