Le Garde-meuble, ancien et moderne (Furniture repository, ancient and modern), was a periodical consisting entirely of illustrations depicting French furniture, interiors, and window treatments.  It was published in Paris from 1839 to around 1935 originally under the direction of furniture designer Désiré Guilmard. The title, Le Garde-meuble refers to the name of the office Louis XIV created in 1663 charged with the care of royal residences and their furnishings. Guilmard added the subtitle, ancien et moderne, to indicate that images would depict Louis XVI, Louis XV, Gothic, Renaissance and other historic revival styles as well as more “modern” styles that incorporated technological innovations that better accommodated nineteenth century lifestyles.

Le Garde-meuble was issued every other month containing nine loose lithographic plates with three images of sièges (seating furniture), three of meubles (case furniture, i.e., non-seating objects such as cabinets, chests, tables, etc.) and three of tentures (bed and window hangings).  This seemingly odd arrangement has its origins in the French pre-Revolutionary guild tradition when chairs were made only by menuisiers (carpenters) and case furniture by the ébénistes (cabinetmakers). On occasion, ceiling plans and floor plans with furniture arrangements, wall ornamentation and window drapery patterns for dining rooms, parlors and bedrooms were included.

The more than 400 colored lithographs held by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Library represent a nearly complete collection of the early plates of Le Garde-meuble dating from the late 1830s to the 1850s.  They depict richly tinted, very detailed, and skillfully delineated sideboards, dining, side and gaming tables, armoires, beds, bookcases, upholstered sofas, tête-à-têtes, dining and side chairs, washstands, prie-dieus, jardinières, desks and storage cabinets, as well as drapery patterns in revival and modern styles. An online display of Le Garde-meuble is available.

The clarity of the intricate details of the carving, marquetry, inlay, fabric patterns, garniture (trimmings) and passementerie (braids, tapes and tassels) and the dense glazing suggesting furniture surface treatments employing gleaming French-polishes, ebonizing, grained-painted highlights, and glistening gilt bronze mounts additionally make Le Garde-meuble a rich research resource.  No doubt, Le Garde-meuble was originally created to promote French design worldwide and to inspire decorators, architects, cabinetmakers, upholsterers and designers who regularly traced and adapted its detailed forms, styles, colors and patterns. Today, it remains a valuable visual resource documenting historic styles as well as tool for contemporary furniture restorers, set designers, historians, curators, historic preservationists, upholsterers, and interior decorators.

One thought on “Fancy French Furniture

I just visited the Drawn by Nature, of works by Sophia Louise Crownfield and Design by Nature exhibits. I saw the names of several French (and maybe Italian) designers in the show, but can’t remember who their were. I visited your website and couldn’t find any to their names. Could you please help me identify these designer/artists?

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