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Furniture Gallery - Expo Paris 1889

Furniture Gallery at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1889


Next to the entrance door of the Upholsterers' Exhibition is the door to the Furniture Exhibition. Which is quite natural, since these two industries are sisters.

But not always.

It is very rare, if one furnishes a living room, for example, entirely new, that the upholsterer does not find that the cabinetmaker was wrong in a lot of details, while the latter declares that the hangings of his colleague do not make his furniture worthwhile. This is because in the trade the upholsterer has become a furniture dealer and the furniture dealer an upholsterer, and neither of them admits the division of this kind of trade.

But in production, the separation exists and these two great industries are, one beside the other, among those which make the glory of the capital.

If it was once said: "There is no good beak except from Paris", it is still true to say that there is no beautiful furniture except from Paris. I am speaking here, of course, of furniture produced today, with the character of its time and the fashion of the day. Antique furniture comes from here or elsewhere, and it is the luck of an archaeologist or collector to find a beautiful piece. But the Parisian craftsman, alone in the world, knows how to produce the furniture of this time, both artistic and comfortable.

And not the artistic art of that false art, which produces by large repetitions, a Louis XIII chair or a Henri II dresser, but the artistic art of the personal art of the worker, or rather of the artist. From certain small owners, whose workshops are lost in a corner of a suburb, furniture comes out which is not imitated by anyone, which does not copy any master and before which one would be tempted to kneel. And it has slowly emerged, after months of work, from the chisel and scissors of a master sculptor, assisted by a journeyman and an apprentice.

Unfortunately, the piece only made one trip from the furniture dealer to a foreign country, from where it came back to us six months later in the form of disastrous copies, described as originals when the German producer is frankly dishonest, and as repeats when he is only half dishonest.

It is therefore interesting to note the astonishment of the visitors and especially of the half-knowledgeable in front of the superb entrance of the furniture.

This entrance, which leads to the galleries of class 17, is a remarkable façade made of various woods. The general style is far from easy to define; it is somewhat Louis XVI in the regularity of the cuts. The large square bay in the middle, of a simplicity of great character, is framed in a wide cabbage leaf border, which has a very beautiful effect. The ornamentation is, all in all, of great sobriety; it consists mainly of two wooden statuettes, one probably representing drawing and the other the art of woodworking. Two pediments surmount the secondary bays. They are of an amiable fantasy. They are carved wood compositions in half-relief.

In the first one, a loving cabinetmaker brings a Henry II chair to a naked young woman, who really needs this beginning of furniture since she is sitting on the ground. Nevertheless, coquetry has not waited for the furniture, and the young woman contemplates herself in a hand mirror. This suggests that the first object to leave the hands of the first cabinetmaker was the first frame of the first mirror.

This may not be of great historical truth, and certainly scholars who have dealt with the origins of mankind would find it of interest, but it is well executed and quite graceful.

The counterpart is just as pleasant. We find the same cabinetmaker's love and the same young woman; the latter is still as naked as in the previous chapter. Perhaps she is waiting for the fabric gallery to dress her. But the furniture has increased: not counting the chair from earlier, on which this lady disdains to sit, 'since she is still originally lying on the floor, we can see in the second plan a credenza which could well be a secretary... - Already!

Love brings a rag, which is truly a luxury item, as the young woman does not have a single rag on her body. She, for her part, divides her admiration between the small piece of furniture presented to her by her usual supplier and a jewellery box in her hand.

These two delicacies temper the severity of this large door to a very fair degree and bring it back to an excellent note.

The hangings consist of a red door and a canopy of the same colour, embroidered with an inscription that should be moved to another place, as it alters the harmony of this beautiful ensemble.

Golden Book of the Exhibition - Henry Anry.


The furniture industry is one of the most important in Paris, not only in terms of production but also and above all in terms of the artistic value of its products. For luxury furniture, it is without rival and foreign cabinet makers have almost always had to copy models from Paris when they wanted to get away from the conventional banalities of everyday furniture.

This high artistic value is due both to French taste and to the care taken to develop it by the major cabinet makers, who are the first to be interested. Alongside the municipal professional furniture school (Ecole Boulle), there are other employers' institutions, museums of documents, and a whole organisation of artistic and manual education which will guarantee the superiority of our cabinetmaking for a long time to come, and to which it provides a contingent of young workers each year, who combine a solid knowledge of the art with an indisputable sure hand.

Class 17, which includes luxury and cheap furniture, opens onto the thirty-metre gallery through the magnificent door we have already described. It is the only class that occupies a gallery in its entire length, from the central vestibule to the front of the palace, where it leaves only a narrow edge for countries in the Far East. The organisers have focused their decorative efforts on the entrance to their class. Inside, they rightly assumed that the furniture was sufficiently furnished and that it was unnecessary to fill the gallery with pavilions or showcases, in which, moreover, the exhibits would hardly have been at ease. The whole perimeter is occupied by compartments which form real rooms for displaying complete furnishings. In the middle, the most varied pieces of furniture are arranged in the best possible way. The gallery has its central aisle cut in two by the large Krieger pavilion, which is, as it were, the altar of the god's divinity. It is a sort of immense buffet made of natural wood, with curious rope hangings, which includes two salons below and a salon on the first floor, reached by a graceful staircase. I find, for my part, that the container is infinitely superior to the content. The one downstairs is banal and the one upstairs consists of an oak piece of furniture, which has the great disadvantage of being upholstered in old pink plush. But plush, brought into fashion a few years ago by an exotic painter, will never, however well used, achieve great stylistic effects.

The central aisle is almost entirely occupied by billiards. Given that a billiard table is expensive and lasts a long time, and that it is not a piece of furniture of primary importance, one might think that the production of billiards is rather limited. This is not the case; it is one of the most important and flourishing branches of Parisian cabinet making. It must be admitted that the sight of two hundred billiard tables in battle order is not surprisingly recreational. To find interest in them, you have to examine them closely.

Thus you would not suspect that billiard tables are still being made with blouses, that is to say, with holes in the four corners. It seems, however, that there are some stubborn people who have not converted to billiards. For them, billiard tables with holes are made, but to satisfy everyone, the tables can be made to fit the current taste and the coats can be closed at will.

Other billiard tables are for poor people, who cannot afford the luxury of a dining room and a carom room. Cric! and you have a billiard table, American cushions, etc. Crac! and you have a table for 18 people. Is that ingenious enough? Well, it gets better.

This is the pool table: Cric! and you can indulge your passion for pile driving... Crac! plunge into deep study. Obviously this one was invented by a law tutor in the Latin Quarter.

It is certain that all styles are represented in this long gallery, but the general trend can be identified as follows.

For the dining rooms and libraries, the Renaissance triumphs: a lot of Henri II, a lot of Flemish.

For the bedrooms, everything, or almost everything, is Louis XV.

The salons are also Louis XV, although there are some fine attempts at the grand Louis XIV style.

That said, we cannot be expected to describe in detail the hundreds of furnishings on display; we must be content to mention a few highlights.
Here is a Louis XV bedroom, in Martin varnish, which is the most remarkable piece of its kind in the Exhibition. Another bedroom, Moorish style, says the sign which comes from Marseille, but in any case of a pretty aspect, was bought by Mrs. Carnot, probably to lodge the Algerian sheiks who were visiting the Elysée.

A dining room includes the sideboard and the Henri II fireplace, both pieces are superb.

A ravishing room of style which is indeed the most coquettish nest of girl that one can dream, is a bedroom of the XIIIth century, reconstituted according to Viollet le Duc. Under the natural coloured wool blankets with blue fillets, the blue and white gothic bed is adorned with ogives with gold fillets; the table is of an elegant simplicity. The large armchair is highly evocative of this beautiful period.

All these stylish furnishings are not overpriced, and for a thousand francs you can have a middle bed and a three-body wardrobe, with decorative paintings. All of it of the most beautiful Louis XV.

However, there are some very expensive pieces, those which have brought together the collaboration of masters of various arts. Here, for example, is a piece of decorative furniture made by a house in Marseille. The design was provided by the architect Paul Sédille, the figures are sculpted by Aliar, and the enamels, after Luc-Olivier Merson, were executed by F. de Courcy.

It is understandable that the price of the piece of furniture was somewhat high. It is certainly as expensive as a neighbouring jewellery chest, which costs only 60,000 francs. The large Louis XV desk which is in the Louvre, I do not know in which gallery, but which everyone knows, has been copied twice. One of these copies is worth 50,000 francs. Although it is a Louis XV, it is a real minister's desk.

There is also the furniture exhibited by Galle de Nancy. Galle is both an industrialist and an artist, and on top of that an amiable fantasist. In the manner of the artists of the Middle Ages, he does a bit of everything. In the 30-metre gallery he exhibited a cabinet-making kiosk, ceramics and crystals all at the same time. I would not be very surprised if he had a statue and a few paintings in the Beaux-Arts, and if his music was played on one of the organs in the Desaix gallery.

He does not give in to banal furniture, so his exhibition is extremely interesting.

Here is an oak cabinet. The raw material is not common. It is lacustrine oak collected from a pond in the Lorraine region. Well, Gallé has used this piece of furniture to create a monument to the glory of old Gaul; his art is patriotic, but broadly and intelligently patriotic. The ornaments are borrowed from oak and the panels, inspired by the ancient poems of Leconte de Lisle, show us
The pale Ueldeda prophetess of Sein,

or symbolise the

beautiful hymns of the sea, soft murmurs of the winds;

on another

The stags bray at the feet of the radiant oaks

while the fourth recalls the "rocks of Armor".

But Galle's triumph is in his marquetry furniture. He is to furniture what the symphonists (?) are to the new literature. The subject and the wood must go together. A planter called Exotic Flora is all inlaid with island wood. The masterpiece of this exhibition is a unique and admirable piece, which will certainly not be moved to any museum. It is a large thorn table made up of three strips of walnut and plum wood; the middle one, in marquetry, translates this sentence from Tacitus in his De moribus germanorum :
"Germania omnis a Galliis Rhenoseparatur. Germania is entirely separated from Gaul by the Rhine.

On the cartoons of the master Prouvé, Galle executed a tour de force of marquetry, without the difficulties of the work having altered in the slightest the energetic expression of the characters. The foot, formed of a garland of oak leaves with the legend: Je tiens au coeur de la France, bears in one corner this patriotic signature: Fait par Emile Galle, de Nancy, en bon espoir.

Another word about the Gallé table. It must not leave France, it is covered with thousand franc notes.

Cheap furniture is represented above all by iron beds. The iron bed has nowadays won the right to be in the city, and it is quite possible to offer a guest in the country a room furnished in the devil's own way, with an iron bed, provided that it has a certain appearance. And we have managed to make some lovely ones, both very comfortable and eminently hygienic.

The all-metal bedsteads, made either of steel strips or of chains stretched by springs, have dethroned the odious bedstead of old, the natural refuge of all parasites, and which groaned pitifully every time you made a movement between your sheets.

The chairs are more picturesque than they ever were. It is for the dining room, the Henri II with the high backs, upholstered in embossed leather. This leather is more or less Cordoba. The lounge chair, if not upholstered, is made of golden rush, much too golden. It should be noted that we Americanise too much the accessory furniture which thus becomes too rich, or at least too brilliant.

Thus, basketry furniture, which is very fashionable, is uniformly gilded on all sides. It loses all its simple charm.

But furniture follows fashion, it does not make it. Let us not be too hard on this fashion, which has allowed us to find here enough masterpieces of taste and enough masterpieces of execution to furnish all the palaces of Europe.

And to furnish them with elegance, with richness, in the French style, to put it in a nutshell.

©Livre d'Or de l'Exposition - Henry Anry.