An article written by Sally for Antiques & Art on the history of the chair, 1850 to the present.
In our last article we looked at the evolution of the chair.In this sequel we look at the chairs development to today.
France and England: 17th and 18th centuries The French Rococo chair in its most mature form-that was, to say, as progressed in Paris around 1750-spread through most of Europe and has been imitated or copied into the mid-20th century. The chair owes the popularity to a combination of comfort and delicacy. The seat conforms to the human body and grants a relaxed seated position. The back is bow-shaped, the legs curved. Typically the seat and back are upholstered, and there are small upholstered pads over the armrests. Smooth transitions are made between seat frame, legs, and back disguise all the joints, which are constructed solidly on craftsmanlike principles in spite of the absence of stretchers between the legs.Canework is sometimes used instead of upholstery.
Alongside the French Rococo chair and the best English chairs in walnut and mahogany, the stick-back chair was relatively unaffected by the stylistic changes of the day. Originally a medieval form, known, for example, from paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and still found in mid-20th century in the churches and inns of southern Europe, the stick-back chair (in all of its variations) consists basically of a solid, saddle-shaped seat into which the legs, back staves, and possibly the armrests are directly mortised. This typically peasant form underwent a renewal and a process of refinement in England and America during the 18th century. Under the name Windsor chair (a term that seems to have been used for the first time in 1731) or Philadelphia chair, it became popularised and was widely distributed throughout the world.
Late 18th to 20th century In the Neoclassical period, no basic changes took place in chair forms, but legs became straight and dimensions lighter. Backs in the shape of classical vases replaced the fanciful outlines of the Rococo period. Around 1800, freely executed imitations of Greek and Roman chairs of the klismos type, with curved legs and backrest, appeared. French chairs of the Empire period, executed in dark mahogany and embellished with ornate bronze mounts, created a ponderous effect.
In cheaper brands of inferior workmanship, bourgeois chairs of the 19th century carried on the traditions of the 17th and 18th centuries. The only real innovations were the bentwood (wood that has been bent and shaped) chairs in beech that became popular all over the world and were still made in the 20th century. Around 1900 the continental Art Nouveau and Jugendstil styles (French and German styles characterized by organic foliate forms, sinuous lines, and non-geometric forms), and the Arts and Crafts movement in England (established by the English poet and decorator William Morris to reintroduce idealized standards of medieval craftsmanship), gave rise to many original chair designs. These new furniture styles did not exercise wide, let alone decisive, influence. The Art Nouveau chairs designed by the French architect Hector Guimard, for example, are collector’s pieces, but his name is known to a broader public only because of his fanciful entrances to the Paris Metro.
Modern After World War I, the Bauhaus school in Germany became a creative centre for revolutionary thinking, resulting, for example, in tubular steel chairs designed by the architects Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and others. During World War II, the aircraft industry accelerated the development of laminated wood and molded plastic furniture. The dominant chair forms of this period go back to designs by Alvar Aalto, Bruno Mathsson, and Charles and Ray Eames.In France we experienced the mass produced metal stacking chairs and stools developed by Tolix which are still being manufactured and improved upon even today.Early Tolix chairs are highly desirable.
Rapid technical developments, in conjunction with an ever-increasing interest in human-factors engineering, or ergonomics, suggest that completely new chair forms will probably be evolved in the future.