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2 June – 7 October 2012
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Art & Design

Design - Directoire Style

The Directoire or Directory style takes its name from the period 1795–1799 when France was ruled by a government of Directors – the Directory. Directory style was not so much an independent style in itself, but rather a transitionary style between that of Louis XVI and the Consular and Empire styles. Many examples of design from this period carried on the Classicism of Louis XVI, but with greater restraint and incorporating many of the symbols of equality, fraternity and liberty associated with the Revolution.

 In the time of Louis XVI, Neoclassicism (art and design that borrowed from the forms of ancient Greece and Rome), influenced by the excavations of Pompeii and Herculaneum, began to replace the excesses of the Rococo style. Furniture and objects were made to replicate exactly that excavated from Pompeii or as depicted on antique vases and reliefs. The klismos – a style of chair from ancient Greece with a curved backrest and bowed legs flaring outwards – was widely imitated in European design.

One of the most notable pieces of Directoire furniture was the day bed, inspired by ancient examples and made famous in the portrait of the celebrated beauty Madame Récamier, by artist Jacques-Louis David. The lit bateau, or boat-shaped bed, developed out of the Directoire daybed and came into its own during the Empire period.

Design from the Directory period frequently used emblems of the French Revolution: the Phrygian (or liberty) cap; a spade topped with a Phrygian cap to represent the Third Estate; spirit levels to represent equality; pikes, representing the freedom of man; clasped hands to show fraternity; triangles with an eye in the middle to represent reason; swords for nobility; the Revolutionary cockade (rosette); and tricolour flag.

Another decorative motif employed was the fasces, a bound bundle of birch sticks, sometimes topped by an axe head. This symbol was used in the Roman Republic to denote authority and strength through unity – one stick being breakable but a bundle of them providing strength - and in the French Revolution to symbolise the indivisibility of the French people under the new Republic.

JACOB FRÈRES (attributed to) (manufacturer)
France 1796-1803
Curule armchair (Fauteuil Curule) Directory period (1795-99)
Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla)
94.0 x 63.5 x 46.0 cm
Les Arts Décoratifs,
musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris
On deposit from the Mobilier National, Paris (inv. MOB NAT GME 5257)
Photo: Les Arts Décoratifs, Paris / Jean Tholance
  • MANUFACTURE DE SÈVRES (manufacturer)
    France est. 1756
    Etruscan-style goblet and saucer (Tasse à pied, figure étrusque et soucoupe) 1793-95
    (a) 8.0 x 8.2 cm diameter (goblet); (b) 16.5 cm diameter (saucer)
    Musée Carnavalet - Histoire de Paris, France (inv. C 1912)
    © Musée Carnavalet / Denis Svartz / Roger-Viollet
  • Charles-Eloi ASSELIN
    French 1743-1804
    Design and decoration for a cup and saucer, called Conical cup with two handles (Éléments décoratifs, Tasse et soucoupe, appelé Tasse Conique à deux anses) (1802)
    watercolour and pen and ink
    29.5 x 18.5 cm
    Sèvres Cité de la Céramique, Paris
    (inv. 2011.3.1097)
    © RMN (Sèvres, Cité de la céramique) - Martine Beck-Coppola

Think, Investigate, Create

Visual Communication and Design

Research the changes in fashion – in both clothing and decorative arts – from the time of the ancien régime through to the time of the French Revolution and the Directoire or Directory period. What changes were evident and why did they come about?

Find out about the Rococo style. What are its key characteristics and how does it embody the values of its time?

Use the NGV collection to make an illustrated chart demonstrating the evolution of chair design from 1750 to now.

Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaign fired the imaginations of the European public with exotic imagery.  Brainstorm examples of exploration and discovery that have influenced more contemporary design. Identify one example that interests you and explain how the influence is evident.

Design an item of clothing, furniture or ceramic work inspired by a ‘voyage of discovery’.

Research examples of ancient Greek and Roman art and design. Adapt one of these designs to make it applicable to your time.

Educator's Guide