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» » Transition-Style Commode by Mercier Frères

Transition-Style Commode by Mercier Frères


January 21st, 2021 | Galerie Atena

Louis XV-Louis XVI Style Commode by Mercier Frères

Transition-Style Commode by Mercier Frères, Circa 1890


The History of the Transition Style


The Transition style covers the period from 1750 to 1774 and defines the stylistic evolution that, in the second half of the reign of Louis XV and at the very beginning of the reign of Louis XVI, was characterized by the renouncement of curves and Rococo extravagance in favor of straight lines, symmetry, and harmonious proportions.


The transition from the Louis XV style to the Louis XVI style was gradual. Firstly, Louis XV ornaments and forms were juxtaposed with neoclassical ones, inspired by Greek models. Later, during the reign of Louis XVI (1774-1793), only the elements inspired by the antique were preserved, giving birth to the Neoclassical style.


Transition Style Commode by Mercier Frères
Transition-Style Commode, Three-Quarter View


This evolution of taste in the middle of the 18th century was relied to the vogue of archaeology, brought about by the discoveries of the cities of Herculaneum (1748) and Pompeii (1752). These important historical events gave rise to the publication of illustrated books and the spread of engravings, which described the Greco-Roman architectural motifs and orders, democratizing this new style called "The Greek style".


German scholars then in Rome, such as Goethe (1749-1832) or Johann Joachim Winckelman (1717-1768) - archaeologist and art historian, author of Thoughts on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture (1755) and of a History of Art in Artiquity (1764), seized Antiquity and tried to demonstrate, through their writings, the supremacy of the Greek ideal.


Louis XV-Louis XVI Style Commode
Commode in Louis XV-Louis XVI Style With Marble Top


Louis XV-Louis XVI Transition style commode in parquetry veneer
Commode in Parquetry Veneer Signed Mercier Frères, Three-Quarter View With Open Drawer


In France, encyclopedists were attacking the futility of Rocaille art. Denis Diderot condemned the erotic subjects of François Boucher (1703-1770) and exalted the moral painting of Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805). As for Jean-Jacques Rousseau, he questioned the society of his time (Du contrat social, 1762) and praised a return to nature. Quatrère de Quincy (1755-1849), faithful to Winckelmann's ideas, published an Essai sur l'idéal in 1805. In addition, French artists and architects traveled to Italy to study the ancient monuments, ruins and objects found intact near Vesuvius. All agreed and denounced the artificiality of art under the reign of Louis XV and aspired to a return to order and morality.


Some personalities enthusiastic about a return to Antiquity, such as Madame du Barry, the favorite of King Louis XV, helped the development of the Transition style by ordering furniture à la grecque for the layout of his castle in Louveciennes.


19th Century Commode in Transition style

Transition-Style Commode : Piastre, Interlacing Friezes and Crown-Shaped Handle


Transition-Style Furniture and Decoration


The short period called "Transition" is characterized by a straightening of the Rocaille curves, which however, did not disappear completely. The return to the straight line and symmetry inspired by Antiquity was gradually accomplished, before triumphing definitively under Louis XVI. The furniture followed this evolution, bringing flat surfaces and right angles back into fashion. Parallel and perpendicular lines became the norm in decoration. The curved chests of drawers gave way to a straight breakfront but kept curved legs, animated by a more or less pronounced curve. The commode of Transition form had two large drawers in the front, and a small drawer in the belt. The rigidity of the lines was attenuated by rounded and chamfered angles.


The pieces of furniture in the Greek style were highlighted with ornaments recently found on antique monuments and mosaics: rosettes, palmettes, garlands, interlacing, pearls, piastres, rais-de-coeur or ribbons. At the same time, marquetry with geometric patterns featured cubes, checkers, rhombuses and checkboard backgrounds adorned with flowers called marquetry "à la reine". These geometrical designs underlined the structure of the furniture.


The elegant moulding, less emphasised than under Louis XV, was also inspired by antique mouldings.


19th Century Commode in Transition Style

Three-Quarter View. Detail

19th Century Commode in Transition Style by Mercier Frères

Detail of a Paw Foot

19th Century Commode in Transition Style by Mercier Frères

Side View


A whole new ornamental grammar transposed in marquetry and gilded bronzes took place on tables, chests of drawers, bonheurs-du-jour and secretaries. Some decorative motifs already existed under Louis XIV but the ornamentalists brought them up to date.


Transition Style Techniques


Transition Marquetry and Parquetry Veneer


Marquetry is a decorative woodworking technique used to create ornamental designs in furniture, architectural features and flooring. It reached its highest degree of perfection around the middle of the 18th century. Ebenists conserved this technique but adapted it to the neoclassical ornamental repertoire. The exotic and exuberant floral marquetries were gradually replaced by more sober designs, or geometric patterns. If marquetry involved complexe compositions such as flowers, birds or animals, parquetry was precisely based on a recurring pattern. This was a more simplistic technique, but still extremely effective.


Louis XV-Louis XVI Style Commode by Mercier Frères (1828-1985)

Breakfront, Left Panel

Louis XV-Louis XVI Style Commode by Mercier Frères

Breakfront, Middle Panel

Secrétaire à cylindre attribué à la Maison Beurdeley d'après un modèle de Riesener

Breakfront, Right Panel


Transition Gilt Bronzes


The bronzes, which were still present, were fewer and generally supplied by the foundries. New intricate antique motifs: rosette, drapery, ribbon, Greek frets, laurel garlands, piaster and acanthus leaves, were applied to the cubic body of the furniture items.The breakfronts were adorned with square or rectangular panels, embellished with rosette.


The cabriole legs were highlighted with Louis XV ormolu foliage. These bronzes served both as a transition and a reinforcement between the curved legs and the straight breakfront of the piece of furniture.


Louis XV-Louis XVI Transition style commode

Piaster and Neoclassical Mouldings, Detail

Meuble bureau à cylindre d'après Riesener

Detail of a Gilt Bronze Paw Foot

Secrétaire à cylindre, Maison Beurdeley

Side View, Detail


19th Century Style Furniture


During the second half of the 19th century, eclectic ebenists such as Antoine Krieger (1804-1869) and Mercier Frères (1828-1985) designed fashionable furniture items in Transition style : chests of drawers or showcases resting on curved legs, like our commode signed Mercier Frères. These high quality pieces of furniture were exhibited at the Universal Exhibitions in London and Paris, and some of them were acquired by the Imperial Court of Napoleon III.


These eclectic items were required by a society deeply in love with the past. At the 1851 Universal Exhibition in London, where the French art industry was highly admired, Léon de Laborde (1807-1869) - a French archaeologist and scholar trained in Germany - published a report in which he recommended that French manufacturers should revive tradition and understand, before creating, the particular style of each era.


Louis XV-Louis XVI Style Commode by Mercier Frères

Late 19th Century Commode in Transition Style


Mobiliers décorations anciens et modernes Mercier Frères 100 Fg. St-Antoine Paris
Drawer Interior With "Mercier Frères" Label


Cabinetmakers replied to this interest for the past by rediscovering and appropriating the techniques of their predecessors. Some of them learned how to carve Renaissance-style oak or walnut furniture, others specialized in imitating copper and tortoiseshell inlays after André-Charles Boulle.


Most of the Second Empire residences were decorated with furniture and items inspired by the old styles, from the 15th to the 19th century. There were Medieval and Renaissance dining rooms, Louis XIV salons, Louis XV boudoirs and Louis XVI bedrooms. Empress Eugenie contributed greatly to the rediscovery of the styles of the Ancien Régime - Louis XVI in particular.



The restauration of the Commode : a work of patience

The Commode has been restored according to the rules of art in our workshop in order to recover its original state.


Our team of restorers has first disassembled the chiselled and gilded bronze parts to clean them and recover their shine.


Then, after having finely sanded the marquetery, they revived it to highlight its original veins and colors. They used the "pad varnishing" technique, which consists in applying on the wood a pocket filled with a wick of cotton soaked with varnish, by describing regular eights. 


The veined marble top was sanded to make the surface uniform and to remove traces of wear and irregularities. Finally, the marble was polished and buffed to restore its luster and shine. 


Its restoration was a long work of patience that allowed us to give back to this beautiful Transition commode all its splendor and elegance.