The Napoleon III style, named after Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte, the French emperor who ruled from 1852 to 1870 (also referred to as the Second Empire), stands as one of the most unique styles ever produced. The eclecticism of the Second Empire is reflected in the association of past tradition with the development of modernism. It was often referred to as a “style without style”. The Napoleon III-”style” was in fact more of a combination of different styles from past centuries adapted to the modern era in order to correspond to a time of dynamic, innovative transformation. It stands out because there is nothing within it that is unique to itself. Everything, including materials, forms reproduced, and ornamentation used, was borrowed from styles that preceded it. Instead of drawing their inspiration from a single period, the artists and decorators from the Second Empire drew indiscriminately, with joyful exuberance, from all sources. Even so, this style, which is so apparently lacking originality, carries on a recognizable personality and is easily identified.
During the twenty years of the Second Empire, styles that had already passed came back into fashion with a frenzy. A resurgence of Renaissance, Louis XV, Louis XVI, and Gothic styles appeared, as well as Chinese and Japanese art, which had already gained popularity during the Charles X and Regency periods. All of these styles were represented in the decorative arts, not successively but nearly simultaneously. It resulted in a combination of abundance, proliferation, and eclecticism that was sometimes excessive but gives the impression of meticulousness and opulence.
This was the time of French industrialization, progress, and industrial art. The technique for making large tufted cushions was invented in 1838, as well as cast iron furniture that could be reproduced mechanically. This period saw many innovations: new machines allowed for very fine and precisely cut veneer, gold-plating could be used on ornamental bronzes, and marble-carving became easier. The invention of carton pierre (a type of papier-mâché) could be used to produce fake sculpted decorations. One of the characteristics of the Napoleon III period that marks it with a certain originality is the use of dark woods or the use of paper maché on a black background. Pieces of furniture in black that are lacquered and painted with multicolored bouquets are very representative of this period.
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