When most people think of 19th-century furniture, they image finely carved, ornate, and huge Victorian-era items. Few people are familiar with Biedermeier, a German and Austrian style known for its simplicity, symmetry, and low cost. Despite this, it is widely regarded as one of the most innovative design styles of its era.
From the 1820s through the 1840s, during a period of delayed European recovery following the Napoleonic Wars, the Biedermeier style flourished in Germany and Austria. While the nobility and royals were financially disadvantaged, the industrialization boom resulted in a more wealthy middle class. The middle class had a bigger effect on European art, furniture, and culture as their purchasing power increased.
The middle-class enfranchisement satisfied the elites little.
They were forced to condemn the style that arose as a result of this social and cultural transition. Adolf Kussmaul and Ludwig Eichrodt invented the fictitious figure “Gottlieb Biedermeier” to symbolize the “respectable yet unsophisticated” middle class, “born and characterized in the spirit of parody as an ideal of naive simplicity and moralistic credulity.” As a result, the name Biedermeier came to describe not just to this character, but also to the middle class and their style.
For the middle classes, the Biedermeier style was simple, functional, comfortable, and beautiful. It was less ornate than the dominant French and Neoclassical styles, which were frequently embellished with gilding, metalwork, and exotic woods. Many Biedermeier works feature basic lines with little embellishment; nonetheless, decoration can incorporate Napoleonic motifs such as eagles, sphinxes, swans, dolphins, acanthus, lion paws, lyres, and garlands. These touches, however, are ultimately controlled and proportionate.
Biedermeier furniture was often built from German fruitwoods grown locally. Veneers were a popular type wood embellishment, frequently book-matched to highlight natural grain or inlays. Stains were also widely used to imitate more costly timbers. Biedermeier furniture was also considerably lower in scale than earlier ruling-class-influenced design trends.
During the Biedermeier period, Josef Dannhauser was the most important designer and furniture maker. His Vienna workshop employed hundreds of workers who produced works for everyone from the Austrian royal family to the typical middle-class household. Despite the fact that few of his works have survived, over 2,5000 of his drawings and printed catalogs are a great resource for collectors, designers, and historians.
The elites, of course, criticized this style just as much as the regular folk who inspired it. Indeed, whether influenced by Gothic, Renaissance, or Rococo variants, the chosen forms of the nineteenth century were invariably revival styles. The Biedermeier style, which lacked allusions to prior aesthetics, was thought to be inferior to the others.
Indeed, it is considered the predecessor of contemporary furniture, with the Biedermeier influence seen in following design eras such as Art Deco from the 1920s through the 1940s.
Biedermeier furniture is a great way to invest in antique furniture. Its simplicity, high craftsmanship, and suitable size and scale make it ideal for the modern house. When purchasing antique furniture, there are a few things to bear in mind.
The first consideration is age. Of course, a Biedermeier item from the early nineteenth century is the most prized. The Biedermeier style, however, saw a renaissance in the mid-twentieth century, and numerous high-end copies are still manufactured today. Maker’s markings are unquestionably the most fundamental indicator of age. Typically, the master craftsman’s marks will be stamped or given on a paper label. Otherwise, historical documents and provenance might be of use.
Materials are the second category (which can also inform you regarding age). Handcrafted German or Austrian items, as well as strong woods, will be the most sought. Highly figured veneers and hand-laid marquetry or stringing can also impact value. Inspect not only the visible main wood from the exterior, but also the quality and craftsmanship of any apparent secondary wood from the interior.
Of course, the third component is the condition. It is critical to recognize that antique furniture is prone to damage and restoration. Scratches, gouges, cracks, sun fading, shaky legs, jammed drawers… the list goes on and on. Buyers are strongly advised to seek condition reports and extra images as needed to account for the numerous potential problems.
Finally, Biedermeier furniture is a lovely style that is well worth the money. As a tremendously important design trend and collectable, Biedermeier is both aesthetically and historically significant. When coupled with more contemporary or classic furnishings, it may enhance any interior style.