The Biedermeier story is an interesting one. The style originated in Vienna, Austria around 1815, lasting until about 1848. After the Napoleonic wars, a middle-class developed and soon became a significant portion of the population across Europe.
Biedermeier (German for “modest splendor”) furniture is a style that first appeared in the late 1800s. Its French and German originators were reacting to the baroque and rococo styles of furniture building that preceded them. Replacing ostentatious ornament with clean, simple lines reminiscent of Greek or Roman classicism, Biedermeier designers developed a restrained, peaceful look that was especially popular in Germany and Austria.
The Biedermeier style was a result of this growth and a response to the buying power held by this developing middle-class.
It was not until 1866 that this style became known as Biedermeier. The name was initially used as a pen name by a team of two elite authors to publish articles mocking the new middle-class.
This new middle-class required something other than the contemporary Empire style, which was too opulent and formal for their homes. They needed something more suitable for their living space and activities like writing, music, and small in-home gatherings.
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Furnishings For The Everyman Is The Legacy Of The Biedermeier Style
While the Empire style used darker, more expensive materials such as mahogany and ebony, Biedermeier featured less costly local materials like walnut, cherry, and pear.
This style relies more on the grain and features of the wood than on the added ornamentation found in the Empire style. Playful geometric shapes, curves, and lighter woods are all standard features of the Biedermeier form.
Biedermeier furniture was designed to make the most out of a limited amount of ornamentation, while at the same time remaining comfortable and affordable for the average citizen. Biedermeier chairs are typically characterized by carved seat splats and serpentine backs using both turned and carved elements.
The playful geometry, simple flat surfaces, and visual delicacy of the Biedermeier style also influenced the Art Nouveau and Art Deco design philosophies. To the untrained eye, a Biedermeier chair could easily be misconstrued as Art Deco.
Because of these similar characteristics, Biedermeier pieces can blend well with these two disciplines.
Over time, the style evolved with curved or serpentine lines and a more ornate treatment of the plane surfaces with materials other than wood. Still, this form fits function style maintained its utility and individuality.
What is a Biedermeier Chair?
From its inception in the 19th century, craftsmen working in the Biedermeier style began making chairs in a multitude of different forms. A search for images of Biedermeier chairs will provide a cacophony of styles.
Biedermeier furniture is an early-19th century style of furnishing created in Bavaria that has the neoclassical elements of Greek architecture, including laurel wreaths, painted white walls, and columns. The name Biedermeier comes from the common and unpretentious middle-class people who were attracted to the style.
The name is taken from that of an Austrian royal counselor (Biedermann), a government administrator and patron of the arts who was a noted patron of the arts, architecture, and music.
Though Biedermeier furniture sprang from rural and middle-class taste-making (the “Bieder” half), it grew into an international style that represented simplicity and functionality — a sharp contrast to the rococo or neoclassical style that preceded it.
The legs will usually be tapered, many will have a slight outward curve. However, it is not uncommon to find more stylized legs, especially in later pieces.
Remember, this 19th-century style was popular when the average person was beginning to benefit from more leisure time. Comfort was a new important feature for chairs of the Biedermeier era.
Upholstered furnishings were horsehair filled and covered with bright velvet or calico fabrics, sometimes pleated.
Many chairs from this period feature a U-shaped structure that can appear almost cup-like. Many are somewhat barrel-shaped (that playful geometry again), and all seem to offer genuine comfort and invite you to sit in them.
Straight-backed chairs were also often upholstered. The legs and seats of these chairs are usually quite similar to simple legs and seating surfaces. The backs of these chairs, however, are quite the opposite.
This is where the playful geometry we mentioned earlier comes into play. Each chair back is a graceful work of art, and the variations are nearly endless.
In summary, The Biedermeier period of mid-19th century Europe was one of cultural renunciation. After the extravagant excesses of the Rococo and Empire styles, a return to simplicity and craftsmanship became the ideal.
Related to a taste for folk art among the upper classes, the Biedermeier style sought to direct attention to the natural world by stripping ornamentation down to its simplest elements.
The natural finish of Biedermeier furniture allowed grain patterns and wood color to show through. Matching chairs and tables from this period appear simple but are actually carefully crafted understated pieces that make an artful addition to any home.
At over 200 years old, the 19th century Biedermeier style is as relevant today as ever. The clean, simple clean lines and engaging detail can make selecting your Biedermeier chair an adventure to remember.
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