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Directoire Architecture

Directoire style describes a period in the decorative arts, fashion, and especially furniture design, concurrent with the post-Revolution French Directory (November 2, 1795 through November 10, 1799). The style is distinct for use of neoclassical architectural forms, minimal carving, planar expanses of highly grained veneers, and applied decorative painting.

The Directoire style was primarily established by the architects and designers Charles Percier (1764–1838) and Pier François Léonard Fontaine (1762–1853). In its use of Neoclassical architectural form and decorative motifs the style anticipates the slightly later Empire style.

Abbott, James Archer. Jansen Furniture. Acanathus: 2007. ISBN 978-0926494459.
Pegler, Martin. The Dictionary of Interior Design. Fairchild Publications: 1983. ASIN B0006ECV48.
Style fashionable in France, especially in Paris, named after the short-lived Directoire period (Oct 1795-Nov 1799). It was marked at first by the collapse of the French economy and then by the rapidly growing wealth of financial speculators, although Ride Felice wrote: 'Many styles are misnamed, none more so than this one; even if it exists ...was ever a style established in such a short time?' (Felice, n.d.). The style itself displayed elements of the classicism that had prevailed in the later part of the 18th century and had been known in the ARABESQUE STYLE, GROTESQUE and ETRUSCAN STYLE. A new austerity was introduced after the Revolution, and reflecting the taste of the new class of military officials, politicans and financial speculators, it became rapidly more opulent. Under the influence of Charles Percier and Pierre Fran?ois Leonard Fontaine it was developed into the flourishing EMPIRE STYLE.

Directoire, Empire, and Federal

J. -F. -T. Chalgrin 

Place de l'Etoile

A revival of Greek and Roman styles dominates early nineteenth century architecture. The Arc de Triomphe commemorates a victory by Napoleon. Large and austere, the plane surfaces are decorated with groups of sculpture.


Pierre Vignon 

The exterior of the Church of St. Madeleine is based entirely on Roman forms. Inside a series of vaulted spaces bears no relationship to the exterior.


Raffaelle Stern 


The grandeur of ancient Rome is recreated in this great hallway with its coffered vault and free-standing Corinthian columns. In the early nineteenth century museums are built in this style to house ancient sculpture.

Thomas Jefferson


The classical revival plays an important role in the architecture of the United States. The University of Virginia, one of the earliest examples, is founded and designed by Thomas Jefferson. The library is based on the Pantheon with its low dome and portico. A broad lawn in front of the portico is flanked by five pavilions in the shape of small temples. The pavilions are connected by long walkways which are lined with Roman columns.

Thomas Ulrich Walter

c. 1833

The Greek revival is more influential in the United States than the Roman revival. At Andulusia, Thomas Ulrich Walter wraps a gleaming white temple around a conventional red brick house. These are the austere Greek Doric forms of the Acropolis. During the 1830's and '40's little Greek temples are built all over the Eastern United States.

Robert Mills

Washington, D.C.

During the 1830s and '40s the Greek revival style is used in large government buildings all over the world. Typical is the old U.S. Patent Office, now the National Portrait Gallery. Predominantly simple and austere, it is decorated only with giant Doric porticos at the center of each facade.


James Renwick (1818-1895)

(originally Corcoran Gallery)
Washington, D.C.

The Renwick Gallery is a fine example of the Second Empire style. Influenced by the Louvre, the moderate-size facade is divided into three pavilions and includes the mansard roof. The strong color contrasts are based on Victorian Gothic styles.

McKim, Mead and White

New York

Designed in a more austere style, the huge Pennsylvania Station in New York derives its grandeur from the repetitive rhythm of giant freestanding columns. The main facade consists of a simple yet powerful composition of three porticos connected by wings. The clearstory and roof of the main waiting room are in the background.


Yale University Art Gallery
New Haven

In America the Empire style is much less opulent. The simple mahogany frame of this long and low sofa is complemented by the striped silk upholstery. The arm terminations and forelegs are based on Renaissance balusters. Carved on the scrolled back frame are simple swags and ribbons.


Mable Brady Garvan Collection
Yale University Art Gallery
New Haven

In this American sofa in the Empire style elaborate carving is replaced by stenciled Roman ornaments over black enameled wood. Some decorations are also freehand. The gold upholstery is fretted with black to contrast with the wood frame.

Charles Percier (1764-1838) and

Pierre Fontaine (1762-1853)
Collection 0. Lafuel

In 1801 Charles Percier and Pierre Fontaine formulated the Empire style, categorizing furniture and interior designs made in a Neo-Classical manner. This stage-like bedroom design is distinguished by crisp lines and primary colors. Based on a military tent, the support members stand out from the simple bed draperies and curtain walls. The Pompeian bed, raised on a pedestal, combines Egyptian sphinxes, Roman laurel wreaths, and acanthus spirals. Behind the bed hangs a large mirror. The maiden frieze above and the three-legged tables also derive from Pompeii.

Percier and Fontaine


The lush oval bedroom of Empress Josephine is also based on a tent design. Supporting posts between the draped fabric walls hold up the ceiling of abstract gold loops, spirals, and circles. Above the Empire bed is a round canopy and lambrequin. Napoleon's eagle stands on top. Notice the portable writing desk which adds to the illusion that the room is part of a military camp.

Charles-Honore Lannvier

c. 1815
Maryland Historical Society

Based on the French Directoire style, the handsome card table is held up by a carved figure combining eagle, caryatid, and acanthus. Ebony cabriole legs attached to acanthus capitals support the irregular base.


Early 19th century
Victoria and Albert Museum

Typical of Empire style designs based on Egyptian motifs, the center shaft of the table is an inverted bundle of lotus plants. Bronze lions hold the three gold supports. The burled walnut top is framed by an elegant curved gold band. In contrast to the convex shape of the table, the plinth arcs inward between the three outer legs. The Egyptian influence on the Empire style reaches its peak after Napoleon's successful campaign on the Nile.



Jacob-Desmalter' s jewel cabinet is one of the most decorated works in the Empire style. Garlands and dancing maidens fill the three front panels which are enclosed by Egyptian papyrus columns.  Amorini ornament the spandrels and the sides of the central panel. On the top, characteristic of the erotic element in the Empire style, amorini prepare a bed. The precise gold ornamentation against the dark wood heightens the rectangular nature of the entire design.


c. 1810
Palazzo Reale

Common features in Empire style designs include these ebony supports, the white marble top, and the varicolored marble inlay. Here the classically inspired secretaire has a central panel like a painting or bas-relief. Triglyphs support a heavy decorated architrave. A bead pattern of coin-like mytopes frames the inset below the chest.



c. 1808
Victoria and Albert Museum

This mahogany bookcase is based on the designs of Thomas Sheraton who in 1790 published his influential book, The Cabinet Maker and Upholsterer's Drawing Book. Characteristic of the period is the emphasis on the vertical axis and the crisp and clearly defined planes. Also typical are the linear treatment of lotus and palmetto motifs, the large acroteria on the pediment and the ebony lions' feet. England is the last country to abandon Neo-Classical or Neo-Greek styles.


c. 1811
Victoria and Albert Museum

The side cabinets of this unusual secretary reflect the influence of Heppelwhite's classical motifs and John Nash's chinoiserie. An oval pattern predominates in the design of the glass cabinets, the intarsia panels, and the arcaded letter cabinet. The sculptural quality of the design is enhanced by the tapering side drawers.


c. 1815
Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg

The German version of the Empire style is known as Biedermeier. This architectural linen cupboard is a beautiful example. Elegant and highly refined in its proportions, it is decorated only modestly with ebony and ivory intarsia plaques.

Thomas Mattes on

Collection Mr. & Mrs. William Carr

Painted marquetry veneers are introduced in American furniture in the early part of the century.

Joseph Meeks & Sons

c. 1825
Metropolitan' Museum of Art
New York

Clearly defined rectangular planes characterize this American bookcase. The simple form, based on the Regency style, is ornamented with floral and architectural designs which are stenciled in gold over the black enamel surface. The capitals are composite Corinthian and Ionic. The glass in the case is supported by oval and diamond traceries and backed by gold draperies in a radiating pattern. The design of this bookcase influences the work of architects later in the century.

Johann Michael Ross1er

c. 1833
Badesches Landesmuseum

The classical simplicity of this Biedermeier cupboard is transformed by the bright colors and the ornamental folk motifs.

Gottfried Semper

Victoria and Albert Museum

Ebony, gold and white painted porcelain are frequently combined in furniture during the mid-century. The heavy top of this cabinet is supported by Pompeian legs with an x-shaped stretcher.

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