Important Empire Early 19th Century Fauteuil by Jean-Joseph Chapuis
Despite his long life, very little is known about the general production of menuisier (chairmaker) Jean-Joseph Chapuis and even less about his use of bent laminates, which must be viewed as the most advanced of its kind until the appearance of Michael Thonet’s work of the 1830s.
The profound reverence for the classical world in enlightened circles in early 19th century Europe and the United States often resulted in the archaeological resurrection of the art, architecture, and design of ancient Greece and Rome. No chair employing the innovative technique of bending wood more boldly expresses this allegiance to the past than this armchair painted in le style antique and based on the ancient Roman sella curulis (folding stool); With a curved toprail decorated with putti supporting a medaillion and flanked by scrolling acanthus, the arms with ball finials, above a caned seat, on curved supports terminating in foliate gilt-metal sabots. This merger of technological innovation with fashionable aesthetics parallels the work of the American Samuel Gragg who used a bent-wood methodology to produce his body of chairs based on the ancient Greek klismos chair.
Dramatic curves such as the inverted U form of the two pairs of legs and the sweeping curve of the continuous back and seat rail cannot be made by carving solid wood as the resulting element would be too weak to be practical. These curves could only be produced by bent laminated wood. A series of four to five solid wooden rods, each a quarter of an inch thick, were glued together, bent, bound in a caul (mold), dried, and then shaped to the appropriate form with a rasp. Jean-Joseph Chapuis was one of the first chairmakers to use the innovative technique of laminated wood to create such exaggerated curves. This technique was taken up and fully exploited by Michael Thonet after 1830. In the second half of the 19th century bentwood furniture became highly popular.
Identical models of this fauteuil were among the furnishings of the Royal Palace at Laeken, near Brussels, during the early years of the Napoleonic occupation. As a result, the maker of this chair was thought to have been the Parisian ébéniste Claude Chapuis, but Denise Ledoux-Lebard has proved that Jean-Joseph Chapuis of Brussels was in fact responsible for this design. The models installed at Laeken are painted white.
Comparable examples are in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum, New York, Victoria & Albert Museum, London, Neue Pinakothek, München, Vitra-Design Museum, Weil am Rhein.