Stark Fine Art and Antiques specializes in French and American period furniture from the late 18th and early 19th century. While the American furniture from the Federal period more closely resembled the furniture being produced in England (e.g. Chippendale, Sheraton and Hepplewhite), in some ways, it also has a certain affinity with its period French counterpart. For both countries, this was an epoch of revolutionary upheaval and a time of great change. Furniture, as well as the decorative arts, followed these socio-economic and political trends, interpreting them both aesthetically and functionally. What the two countries shared in these times were the ideals of Republicanism, a growing middle class of merchants and tradesmen, and an aversion to the decadence of aristocratic opulence.

The French aesthetic in furniture made a significant shift from the beginning of the 18th century to its end. Freed from the domineering influence of Louis XIV, who imposed his style on all the artistic productions of his reign, the Regence and Louis XV style saw a return to intimacy, as the Parisian salon replaced the grandiosity of the Court of Versailles. This period in French furniture also saw the re-introduction of the curvilinear form and greater functional specificity. To some, this period was the height of refinement in French cabinetry.

The Louis XVI period began to see the return to simplicity. Paris was tired of the relentless pursuit of originality and the over the top exuberance of what was essentially rarified and overwhelming rococo. The new style sought a greater geniality. It tied itself to the new sentiments of civility that arose out of the underlying philosophy of the Enlightenment. Furniture was stripped of superfluous ornaments. Lines became more restrained and decoration looked back to Roman antiquity or to the new symbols of fraternity and reason. These concerns found their aesthetic height in the period right after the revolution, known as the Directoire style.

The Directoire and subsequent Consulate governments suppressed the guilds, thus opening up the possibilities for greater freedom of design and production innovation. Elegant and gracious Directoire furniture heralded the Napoleonic period, but is less ponderous and sumptuous. With its use of solid woods such as walnut, elm or beech, together with the its favor for geometric forms, straight lines, simple curves and flat surfaces, this style has retained a timeless elegance that speaks directly to the aesthetics of modern design and is in many ways its precursor.

American Federal furniture has in common with Directoire furniture the same aesthetic leaning toward simplicity. Just as Directoire was a distinct permutation of Louis XVI, Federal furniture was an American adaptation of Sheraton, Chippendale and Hepplewhite design concepts. In city furniture we see almost exact duplication, but time and regional differences soon began to have an effect on design, construction and workmanship. Different woods were used, lines and decoration were altered and scale was changed to fit the American lifestyle. Both emerging styles spoke to the same aesthetic in different languages. They were direct, elegant, and sophisticated in an understated way. Interestingly, as aesthetic movements they were both short-lived, neither one lasting more than twenty years. Napoleonic grandeur overtook the French and America was soon to follow, ushering in a move toward the Empire style.   



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