A True Masterpiece

By: Carly Hill, Staff Writer • Apr 12, 2012 • 0 Comments

18th century Paris produced much of the most exquisite furniture ever made.  Like you learned in Tuesday’s blog, artists and craftsman were required to follow strict guild regulations – which is shown in the art and furniture that was produced.  The guild regulations were formed during the Middle Ages and didn’t change until the start of the French Revolution in 1791.  Furniture makers were trained at the Corporation des Menuisiers for 6 years.  The first three years of training were spent in a master’s workshop, and the next three (at least), they worked as journeymen.  But, to become a master furniture maker, they had to prove themselves by completing what they called “chef-d’oeuvre,” which we translate as “a masterpiece.”

After a masterpiece was completed, the furniture maker had to pay fees and then could open his own workshop if there was an available space.  The guild controlled how many workshops could be open at a time, as well as the size of the workshop.

After 1743, every piece of furniture had to be stamped with its maker’s name.  Another stamp (JME (for jurande des menuisiers-ébénistes) was added after a committee of guild members inspected the workshop quarterly and approved its quality.  If any piece of furniture didn’t measure up, it was confiscated.

During this time, there were two main trades.  There were woodworkers who made paneling for buildings and coaches, and then there were the actual furniture makers.  Both were trained at the Corporation des Menuisiers.  Furniture makers were divided into two other categories – joiners (who made solid wood furniture like beds and chairs), and makers of veneer case pieces.  Mastering both trades wasn’t prohibited, but it didn’t happen very often.

The piece pictured in this blog is an 18th century French Walnut Buffet from Legacy Antiques, featuring deep carvings along the front.  This piece has two hand dovetailed drawers over doors, revealing the original fitted interior and offering efficient storage space. Click here to make it yours!

Learning about the history of 18th century French furniture gives us a new appreciation for the quality of these antiques.  These furniture makers took their job very seriously and its evident in the product.  See for yourself!  Happy Thursday and Happy Latiquing!

Resource: metmuseum.org, Legacy Antiques