Louis XVI Style refers to the style defined by the period in France under the reign of King Louis XVI (1760-1789) — the last French monarch before the Revolution. Inspired by the discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum, this era saw a revival of Greek and Roman styles. Termed the goût grec when it emerged circa 1750, Louis XVI style reflects a reaction against the lavish stylings of the previous era. By the time of Louis XVI, there was a sharp movement away from the Rococo style, as curved lines and heavy ornamentation became unfashionable, giving way to clean, straight lines. Restrained, geometrical forms were preferred to the twirled, freehand designs of Rococo, and stylized references to classical Greek architecture were recaptured. Furniture and interiors were refined, sophisticated, calm and symmetrical.
Louis XV died in 1774, leaving the monarchy to his grandson, 19-year-old Louis XVI, and his Austrian wife, Marie-Antoinette. Louis was notoriously indecisive, and lacked the social polish of his predecessors. Marie-Antoinette was 14 in 1770, when she was brought over from Austria to be Louis XVI’s bride, a marriage intended to reinforce the new alliance between Austria and France (who had been at war as recently as 1743). Meanwhile, the ancient towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii, preserved under ash since Vesuvius’s volcanic eruption in AD 79, were unearthed in Italy in the 18th century. Archaeologists found an incredible amount of intact furniture there, and the spread of this authentic classical style launched a craze across Europe. The interest in ancient Rome and Greece was also related to new ideas about the role of government – these civilizations were a major inspiration first for the American revolutionaries – who were financially and militarily supported by Louis XVI – and then later for the French revolutionaries (in trying to weaken Britain, Louis helped seal his own fate). It was the perfect moment for Neoclassicism. Combining exciting archaeological discoveries with a backlash against the excesses of the Rococo style, a new moral and philosophical emphasis on simplicity, and a political interest in ancient Greece and Rome.