BIEDERMEIER: Original and unique style

The Biedermeier furniture style is inspired by the French Empire  style with modification by incorporating local German traditions  particularly old peasant furniture. It is simple and elegant, consisting  of clean smooth lines and honest, functional form. The pieces are  generally designed on a small scale with graceful and elegant forms,  devoid of unnecessary embellishment. Biedermeier furniture craftsman  eschewed most forms of ornament, preferring simplicity. When there is  ornamentation such as carving there is little detail in the work,  although by around 1830 more detailed carving became prevalent. The main  decorative motifs employed by the Biedermeier era craftsmen included  simple forms of swans, sphinx, dolphins, lion paws, acanthus, lyres, and  garlands. Early pieces were traditionally crafted from dark mahogany  woods with a tendency towards Empire styling. In later years,  Biedermeier furniture was generally fashioned from lighter woods such as  birch, grained ash, pear and cherry, and exhibited a clearly more  whimsical styling. In the middle class homes the furniture was designed  according to the uses of day to day activities like writing, sewing and  music-each characterized by different furniture, and quite deliberately  separated from the others. This furniture was placed in the same living  room in different corners or even the same furniture had a multi use,  this concept created the Wohninsel, or the ‘living island’.

Prior to 1830, mahogany appeared in Biedermeier furniture and  gradually replaced walnut. The adoption of this imported wood, which was  often given a light finish, caused some craftsmen to apply matching  stains and finishes to pieces made in walnut, pear wood, and Hungarian  ‘watered’ ash. The Viennese craftsmen no longer relied on the French,  German and Italian designers for inspiration. Native products based upon  Directoire and Empire designs were highly original, showing a good  understanding of form, balance and the use of ornament in gilded bronze.  Local timber was used for economy, especially walnut veneer over a soft  wood frame. Inlay served as the main decorative element, featuring the  patterned graining of walnut and often reduced to a light-colored  border. Sometimes, craftsmen used black poplar or bird’s eye maple and  colored woods such as cherry and pear became popular. Cabinetmakers  decorated their furniture with black or gold paint, and often employed  less expensive stamped brass wreaths and festoons rather than bronze for  decorative effect and gilded wooden stars instead of the elaborate  metal ornaments of the Empire style. Sometimes, they chose cheaper, new  materials such as pressed paper. The Biedermeier era produced a wealth  of different types of seating, with a myriad of variations on the basic  scheme of four legs, a seat, and a back. From 1815-1835, Biedermeier  craftsmen discovered that a chair could be given literally hundreds of  different shapes. Upholsterers padded their creations with horse-hair  and covered them with brightly colored velvet and calico. Pleated  fabrics covered furniture, walls, ceilings, and alcoves. By the 1840s  the Biedermeier style became romanticizedstraight lines became curved  and serpentine; simple surfaces became more and more embellished beyond  the natural materials; humanistic form became more fantastic; and  textures became experimental.

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