French Antiques & Their History

The French began their love affair with interior design at the time of the renaissance between the 15th and 17th centuries. The talented artists of Italy were making a name from themselves and the French nobility liked what they saw. They imported pictures, tapestries and furniture from Italy which galvanised French craftsman into producing fine arts and crafts of their own. France has always been a place full of spectacular architecture and many of the country's most famous buildings were furnished by talented craftsman such as Androuet Ducerceau, Charles Bouille, Jean Henri Oeben and Georges Jacobs. French antique furniture and crafts are still popular today because of their exquisite designs, durability and excellent quality. Some of the most collectable pieces include:

Copper and Brass

One of the first materials to be used in French design was copper. Dinanderie copper is still popular today, especially art deco plates and vases produced by Jean Dunand and Jaques Douau. They used a variety of metals in their work and Dunand is also known for his designs using lacquer.

French Silver

French silver from the 17th and 18th centuries is difficult to find. When France had money troubles, both Louis XIV and Louis XV made an order that all silver should be melted down and the silver passed on to the treasury. However, at the beginning of the 18th century silverware was once again seen on tables, in the form of cutlery, cake trays and serviette rings, amongst other things.

Decorative Photo Frames

The French used decorative frames for their art work in the 17th and 18th centuries and when photography became popular in the 19th century frames were produced using silver, copper, wood, brass and bronze. Most were highly decorative, although others were made to be durable rather than beautiful. Antique frames are still highly collectable.

French Glass

In 1665 Jean Baptiste Colbert opened the Royal Glassworks, thus enabling the French to manufacture their own glass, instead of importing it from Italy. The French acquired the secrets of glassmaking from the Italians, but they quickly improved their methods and were soon working with large sheets of glass. As a result of this, Louis XV was able to install 306 mirrors in the Hall of Mirrors in The Palace of Versailles. Mirrors on this scale had never been seen before, and their manufacture was a considerable achievement for Colbert's glass factory. By the 18th century glass began to be mass produced and more affordable.

French Mirrors

Francis I was a great collector of mirrors during the renaissance period and they were extremely expensive, they cost more than an original oil painting. French antique mirrors from the early 19th century are made from gilt with plaster mouldings, wood and silver. They are still highly prized today.

Fainence and Quimper Pottery

Quimper in France is well known for its Faience Quimper Ware. This is tin glazed pottery with colourful designs and pictures, said to reflect life as it was in the Brittany region. The production of pottery began here in 1690 and it is especially sought after by collectors who appreciate French Country Style decor.

Tiles and Pictures

The French claim to be the inventors of cement tiles, which came into fashion at the beginning of the 19th century. They were highly patterned with vivid colours and were the favoured decoration for public buildings because of their strength. Individual tiles were also hand painted and used to form a picture, rather like a jigsaw. These tiled murals were often used on French Courtyard walls.

French House and Garden Furniture

French Country House furniture became popular at the end of the 15th century. Robust and practical, French antique furniture retained the elegance and beauty typial of French design. French antiques are stylish, and many believe, in a class of their own. There are usually several lovely pieces on offer to collectors of French Country House furniture at the Scottish Antique & Arts Centres, Abernyte and Doune.