The last king of France afore the French Revolution, Louis XVI tackled disgruntlement and dissatisfaction as well as a vastly growing resentment towards the monarchy. During his reign, Louis XVI was considered to be ill equipped to deal with political and foreign policies, described as uncommunicative and sombre. As the country’s debt was rising and France was left in a grave financial condition, Louis XVI presented no power or decisiveness to better the situation instead he failed to address serious fiscal policy tribulations. After years of not raising taxes or accepting international loans the country was nearly bankrupt and in 1789 in a late attempt to rectify this Louis XVI summoned a form of parliament called ‘estate-general’. An estate made up of clergy, nobles and common folk were produced, however they proclaimed themselves as a national assembly and set out to develop a constitution whereby they had the right to represent the nation. These were the beginnings of the French Revolution and after the royal family made an attempt to escape the country in 1791 this was seen as proof of treason. The monarchy was abolished in 1792 and France was declared a republic, both Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette were executed for treason in 1793.
French Neoclassical architecture was a consequence to the extravagant and intricate ornamentation of the Baroque period, instead buildings were designed around the notion of order, symmetry and clean lines. The discovery of ancient Roman and Greek artwork, sculptures and crucially architecture heavily inspired Neoclassical architecture with an emphasis and idealisation of nature. The excavations of Herculaneum in 1738 and Pompeii in 1748 insured a wave of designs, architecture and décor. These seemingly wealthy towns that had been buried in ash after the volcanic eruption in 79AD had been preserved and remained mostly intact, enthusing an era of style based on classical civilizations. Carvings and friezes that adorned buildings depicted figures and forms, such as the orthodox rudiments of Ancient Greece and Rome. French Neoclassical style focused on a sense of unpretentiousness and intimacy, with simplicity and grace in the carvings, columns and friezes. Motifs included naturalistic themes such as florals, acanthus leaves and garlands as well as human figures.The layout of buildings and homes were more modest and restrained with rooms smaller and a feeling of seclusion and comfort. Large townhouses were substituted for smaller rustic sanctuaries, and specific rooms were designed for various purposes and ceremonies such as music rooms, comfortable social salons etc. Examples of this are seen in the Chateau de Bagatelle designed by Francois Joseph Belanger in 1777, as well as the Carnavalet, now a museum but previously a hotel, designed by Francois Mansart in 1655. Reduced scale architecture is also apparent in Place Vendome in Paris, originally called Place Louis le Grand in honour of Louis XVI and later renamed after the revolution to Place des Piques. Discreet sized apartments, unassuming lines and informality within ornamentation and detail make all these examples clear indicators of French Neoclassical style.
A move away from the curves and intricate imagery of Rococo, instead French Neoclassical concentrated on rectilinear and geometric lines and shapes. Still forms, right angles and straight lines were noteworthy. Motifs encompassed naturalistic themes and in later years motifs would make reference to the revolution with swords and spears, clasped hands and the French flag. Inspired by the formality and dignity of ancient Rome and Greece, classical elements made their way into interiors and furniture design. Carved friezes and classic columns were unfussy yet graceful and this style was also apparent in furniture design with chair legs straighter and fluted along with rigid backs to chairs. Relaxation and intimacy were crucial within the decorative arts. The wood used was mostly mahogany, either carved or gilded and fabrics were comforting, such as canopies over beds and tasteful window dressings.