The Empire Style

Reflecting the aesthetic and political aspirations of France under Napoleon’s leadership, the Empire style combines subtle textures with opulent patterns. As in the frame below, which juxtaposes leaf motif, front bead, and flat panel, objects during this period cultivated elegance in contrasts and employed unique visual strategies within alternating regions.

19th-century French Empire continuous cove frame with leaf ornament, front bead divider and flat interior panel
19th-century French Empire continuous cove frame with leaf ornament, front bead divider and flat interior panel
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19th-century French Empire continuous cove frame with anthemium leaf pattern outside continuous stylized leaf motif with plain hollow divider and lambs tongue interior

Designs drew heavily for inspiration on symbols and ornaments borrowed from the ancient Greek and Roman empires.  Though originating in France, the style quickly spread throughout Europe.

Swedish Empire frame with reeded columns, carved portrait and reed and rosette ornaments
Swedish Empire frame with reeded columns, carved portrait and reed and rosette ornaments

The style took particular root in Imperial Russia, where it was used to celebrate the victory over Napoleon, and influenced numerous designers, and craftsmen of the day, as is evidenced in many of the objects being sold at auction next month during Christie’s and Sotheby’s Russian sales.  Hailing from both Russia and other countries, the objects that make up the Russian collections exemplify the desire to combine disparate elements, eliciting new forms of concord.

Fabergé Mantel Clock, Moscow, 1899-1908 (image courtesy of Christie’s)
Fabergé Mantel Clock, Moscow, 1899-1908 (image courtesy of Christie’s)
Baron Gérard’s portrait of Madame Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, later Princesse de Bénévent, painted in 1908, reflects the Empire style with the use of objects in the painting (image courtesy of metmuseum.org)
Baron Gérard’s portrait of Madame Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, later Princesse de Bénévent, painted in 1908, reflects the Empire style with the use of objects in the painting (image courtesy of metmuseum.org)
Russian Gold and Diamond-Set Presentation Snuff Box probably by Jacob Grauwinkel, St. Petersburg, 1847 (image courtesy of Sotheby’s)
Russian Gold and Diamond-Set Presentation Snuff Box probably by Jacob Grauwinkel, St. Petersburg, 1847 (image courtesy of Sotheby’s)

Lowy has one of the most comprehensive collections of French Empire frames in the world. For more information on Lowy’s collection of 5,000 antique frames, visit www.lowyonline.com or call 212-861-8585.

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