I first started thinking about the impact of the French Revolution on the interiors of English country houses when I visited Stratfield Saye.
The Duke of Wellington’s plans to build Wellington Palace and his much-increased bank balance following success at the Battle of Waterloo in 1812 prompted a spending spree to buy enough furniture to furnish the vast palace.
Taking advantage of the times, he started buying up the furniture of the French aristocracy, whose heads lay in baskets at the other side of the guillotine instead of on their baroque and Rococo furniture. The French Revolution meant that a lot of prime furniture came to the market as it was looted or its sale forced.
History and fashion once more colliding.
Let the magpie-ing begin – if magpies like shiny things the English magpies were in their element, buying up the Sun King – Louis XIV – ‘s furniture and the more refined French furniture of the 18th century.
In addition to Stratfield Saye, Blenheim has some, the Wallace Collection has a lot of it (see here and here) and George IV was a fan, which means the Royal Collection has quite a stash. From the 1780s, George bought up swathes of fashionable French furniture.
Indeed, the confiscation and sale of royal and aristocratic property during the French Revolution enabled English collectors to acquire examples by the best 18th century French cabinet-makers.
And so that’s why around English country houses I constantly bump into French pieces. C’est bon pour moi.