18th century, Birth of Design, Furniture Masterpieces 1650-1789

Marie Antoinette's jewelry case, used for storing her diamonds, rubies and other pearls, is one of the many stunning objects on display in a new exhibition at Versailles.

The exhibition 18th century, Birth of Design, Furniture Masterpieces 1650-1789  showcases the "innovative and avant-garde nature of the shapes, techniques, decorations and materials used in 18th century furniture."  The 18th century saw a revolution in design and functionality, and the desire for multi-functionality in furniture.

Detail of the roll-top desk (the King's desk) Jean-François Oeben (1721-1763) and Jean-Henri Riesener (1734-1806) Made of oak, satin-finish, amaranth and rosewood veneer, gilt bronze, porcelain; Paris, 1760-1769 H. 147,3 ; L. 192,5 ; W. 105 cm Versailles, National Museum of the Palaces of Versailles and Trianon; Inv. OA 5444 © EPV / RMN-GP / Ch. Fouin
The quest for the ideal shape and form hit its peak in the 18th century, when the shape of furniture began to change.  The same quest characterized the use of materials: furniture was covered with exotic woods, lacquers, varnishes, tortoiseshell, mother-of-pearl, bronze, brass, lead, porcelain, straw, steel and stone marquetry.
Cloth, bulrush and copper began to be used in chairs.

Long before the garish colours afforded by plastic in the 20th and 21st centuries, the 18th century saw the birth of furniture in red, daffodil yellow, turquoise blue, apple green, partially gilded or silvered, etc.
Chateau de Versailles

Madame de Mailly's commode Matthieu Criaerd (1689-1776), under the guidance of Thomas-Joachim Hébert (1687-1773) Made of oak, fruitwood veneer, vernis Martin, silvered bronze, Turkey Blue Marble; Paris, 1742 H. 85 ; L. 132 ; W. 63,5 cm © musée du Louvre / RMN / Th. Ollivier

The exhibition brings together over 100 beautiful pieces that were owned by Louis XIV, Louis XV, Marie Antoinette and other notable French dignitaries.

There will be works from private collections which will be on show to the public for the first time.

A catalog published on the occasion of the exhibition is available in English and French.
The sole purpose of this book, published to tie in with the magnificent exhibition at the Palace of Versailles, is to lay bare the incredible inventiveness of the century of Enlightenment, a century in which, for the first time, furniture became an art. Architects, artists and dealers as well as ordinary craftsmen set about organising furniture and elaborating it as never before.
The exhibition also features a Game Booklet for young art historians! Check it out here (PDF) 

On display through February 22, 2015.


  1. A commode? As in that chest of drawers is a toilet?

    1. Nope! Consider the commode a chest-of-drawers before 1840. The one above is a really pretty example. They were used to store personal items.

      "The concept of a free-standing chest-of-drawers was first introduced by André-Charles Boulle (1642–1732). Initially known as tables en bureaux, and representing perhaps the earliest fusion between the table form and a sarcophagus-shaped coffer, Louis XIV Boulle commodes are characterized not only by their brass inlaid decoration but by their swollen “sarcophagus” or Roman-tomb form. During the Régence (1715–23), this developed into the commode en tombeau, which was widely manufactured by Parisian cabinet-makers. Under Louis XV bombé commodes became increasingly Rococo."

      Then, in the later half of the 18th century.... "Louis XV commodes mounted with panels in vernis Martin painted in imitation of Oriental lacquer, with posies of flowers, and arcadian landscapes, were invariably commissioned by marchand-merciers (dealers in luxury goods). Regarded as the height of fashion and extremely expensive, they were mounted with luxurious ormolu mounts, and many can be accurately dated to between 1745 and 1749 through a tax mark."

      From "Chests-of-drawers Before 1840". 2003. In Miller's Antiques Encyclopedia, edited by Judith Miller. London: Mitchell Beazley.

    2. What a relief, no pun intended. I was wondering about logistics and if the drawers stored "stuff."