A remarkable example of how furniture design can reflect great historical events is provided by the emergence of the Biedermeier style after Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo in 1815. The mood of the people of Europe changed – and the style of the furniture altered dramatically to match this mood. As Napoleon had conquered most Europe, the pompous, magnificent Empire style with its grand, monumental mahogany furniture had become extremely fashionable, and palaces and houses were accordingly redecorated throughout the continent.
But after Napoleon’s final defeat, Europe settled down to a long period of peace. The middle classes, who were prospering, wanted a simpler style, which could be functional as well as beautiful. This style, later known as ‘Biedermeier’, is essentially Empire furniture shorn of its ormolu mounts, excessive gilding and aggressive self-importance. Its original geometric shape often leads it to being described as the forerunner of modern furniture.
Like most styles, it did not have a name while it was being made, but was only given one after it had been and gone. The term ‘Biedermeier’ is often wrongly assumed to be the name of a cabinetmaker or designer of the period. During the late 1840s in Austria and Germany, the preceding era (1815-1848) was subject to a barrage of satire, which finally led to the very furniture being mocked.
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