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French Folding Screens

Folding screens began to be exported to Europe during the 17th and 18th Century from China and Japan. Europeans and particularly the Royal Courts were enamoured by them. It is well documented that Louis XIV was an avid collector and it is said that there was a suite of 20 Chinese screens at the Palace of Versailles. They were of mixed media including gauze, lacquer, wallpaper, raised embroidery and Coromandel lacquer.

The reign of Louis XIV saw the rise of Decorative Arts. He commissioned screens featuring the art of marquetry (veneer designs) as well as covering furniture and screens in the finest brocade and silks.

Image 1: Paravent made for Marie-Antoinette at Versailles, 1783. Wood with Silk Brocade

French artisans were inspired by the decorative style of the Orient. Paris became a centre for lacquerwork largely run by one family, the Martins. French artisans also started to create their own style a la Chine, which ultimately led to ‘Chinoiserie’ as we know it. Images of villagers, peaceful gardens and pagodas in Western style landscapes adorned decorative arts.

Image 2: Painted Chinoiserie Screen - Design by Jean Baptiste Pillement 19th Century

(Source -

The reign of Louis XV saw increasing numbers of screens being ordered in court. In the later part of the 18th Century, screens began to be hand-painted and became decorative in both imagery and frame. The obsession with the Orient had paused. The rigid, symmetrical patterns of Louis XIV gave way to shells, leaves, flowers and flowing form, often in lighter colours, influenced by the Rococo movement.

Image 3: Louis XV Style Carved Gildwood on Canvas

The French developed two types of folding screens, both of which were a functional piece of furniture, rather than a decorative object. French folding screens that were shorter in height were designed to enclose seated guests, protecting them from the intense heat of the fire. Taller folding screens also known as paravent, were intended to protect one from a draft or wind as well as unsightly views. They were ideally suited to over-sized cold European Chateaus and homes.

The 19th Century welcomed new styles and materials. Many folding screens were decorated with wallpapers. Most significant is the evolution of French folding screens from a functional piece of furniture made by artisans to becoming a canvas for many a well-known artist including Cezanne.

French folding screens have a long history and whilst changing in form and function still remain a desirable piece for the home.


*Decorative Folding Screens, 1982

Janet Woodbury Adams

*Authentic Decor, The Domestic Interior 1620-1920, 1983

Peter Thornton

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